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What Is the Origin of the Word “Cyber”?

cyber monday

For many, Cyber Monday provides the perfect shopping solution: all the holiday deals with none of the holiday crowds. But where did this term come from? The term Cyber Monday was first used in 2005 by Shop.org to encourage people to shop online; it refers to the Monday following Black Friday. Black Friday is, of course, the day after Thanksgiving and one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Until the advent of the internet, cyber was used in the formation of words relating to computers, computer networks, or virtual reality. This usage can be traced to the word cybernetics, which was ushered into English in the 1940s by the scientist Norbert Wiener. Cybernetics refers to the study of mechanical and electronic systems designed to replace human systems. It comes from the Greek term kybernḗtēs meaning “helmsman” or “steersman.” The first instance on record of cyber as a combining form is from 1961 in the Wall Street Journal: “A major difference between the Cybertron and conventional computers…is the ability of the Cybertron to make use of raw data and signals.” In 1966 fans of the popular sci-fi show Doctor Who heard another cyber combining form: cybermen. These deathly cyborgs have popped up over 20 times throughout the show’s run.

In current usage, cyber is largely used in terms relating to the internet. One notable coinage in the evolution of this term is the word cyberspace by novelist William Gibson. He used it first in his 1982 story “Burning Chrome.” He used it again in his 1984 novel Neuromancer in a passage that many believe captures the sense of wonder that permeated the introduction of the internet to mainstream culture:

 ”Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”

 Why is the day after Thanksgiving called Black Friday? Read about that here.

42 Comments

  1. Brandon Ligon -  August 22, 2014 - 12:18 am

    Did I just notice a typo in this post? 0_o

    Reply
  2. me -  December 15, 2010 - 5:25 pm

    i used to think the world’s funniest name was enkilbert humperdink but now i know for a fact that it’s really norbert weiner… lol

    Reply
  3. lingUist geeK-sage(RP) -  December 7, 2010 - 11:00 am

    cyber monday is analogous to gargantuan online traffic…The online shopping sites are in snail-paced manner to process an order.

    Reply
  4. There'snogoodnamsanymore -  December 4, 2010 - 8:41 am

    Well said, Shane cross, very few people are privy to that information. This also reminds me of a certain phrase which has been turned awry. The word “Gay” originally referring to a very happy or exuberant person has now in almost ever mind in America been twisted to mean that the term refers to a homo-sexual. It indeed does not, and I will not conform to the new use of this term we have so ungrudgingly excepted.

    Reply
  5. smoothius -  December 2, 2010 - 11:47 am

    why not goofy names for the other shopping mediums and days of the week?
    telephone tuesday
    home shopping network wednesday
    lay-away thursday
    wal-mart friday
    strip-mall saturday
    oh and don’t forget
    no way i’m shopping today! sunday

    Reply
  6. Mr. D [A.K.A] Elysian -  December 1, 2010 - 10:38 am

    Elysian!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!++!

    Reply
  7. iWarlock95 -  November 30, 2010 - 8:57 am

    Next person to say “Cyber Monday” is gonna get smacked by me…

    Reply
  8. Shaene Cross -  November 29, 2010 - 12:25 pm

    @ im a student: Haha, same here.

    Reply
  9. Shaene Cross -  November 29, 2010 - 12:24 pm

    It’s neat that almost every word has its roots in Greek, it a very cool language.

    Reply
  10. mikey -  November 29, 2010 - 12:07 pm

    @Sabrina (Xanan too): the other aspect of doing on-line shopping while at work is that prior to the last 5-10 years most people had pokey old dial-up connections (56k !!) at home and higher speed connections at work so less time was required to get anything done on-line if one was at the work PC vs. the home PC. Also, employers were not as savvy (or not doing as much) about internet abuse at work so there were not devices (Websense, etc.) to monitor different types of on-line activity.

    Cyber-Monday is not near the phenomenon that it was 5-10 years ago for the reasons that most people now have faster connections on their home computers so they do not need to wait for Monday to shop, and many employers now have system software that prevents much of the on-line shopping that people used to do at work on the first Monday.

    Reply
  11. Xanan -  November 29, 2010 - 11:50 am

    Pfft… i agree with alot of the comments above (except baby123, she can GTFO). So, from what i’ve collected, Cyber Monday is just a marketing ploy in order to get people to buy computing equipment on the monday after Black Friday… Though sadly that is only to be inferred by this vague post about Cyber Monday.
    As the author of this post i believe it is your duty to inform us of our continous question…
    WHY IS IT CALLED CYBER MONDAY???
    Really… ffs…

    Reply
  12. Mick -  November 29, 2010 - 11:29 am

    It’s called ‘Cyber Monday’ because before fast internet access became wide spread people would wait until they got to work on Monday to jump on the net and buy stuff – or maybe they just like to buy stuff on their company’s time – either way, they waited until the Monday after Thanksgiving to start their Holiday shopping online.

    Reply
  13. CYBERSPACEMONDAYS | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  November 29, 2010 - 11:18 am

    [...] up all that Credit Card Debt and enjoy your CYBER MONDAY — MONDAY MONDAY — MONDAY — A SPACE of many sub cultural meanings — with [...]

    Reply
  14. im a student -  November 29, 2010 - 11:06 am

    hehe im a 7th grade student taking notes on cyber monday right now

    Reply
  15. donnie -  November 29, 2010 - 11:05 am

    . . . . he was actually describing “Mete-Data” which means,
    he was even more ahead of his time than any of us that actually knew him, knew!!!

    Reply
  16. baby123 -  November 29, 2010 - 10:13 am

    ccooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooollllllllllllllllllllllll somone talk to meeeeeee

    Reply
  17. UGGGGH -  November 29, 2010 - 9:57 am

    WHAT IS CYBER MONDAY

    Reply
  18. AnonGurrl -  November 29, 2010 - 9:54 am

    What a strange world in which we live!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  19. iWarlock95 -  November 29, 2010 - 9:37 am

    I’m going to be ‘that guy’ and just say that calling the the first week-day after Thanksgiving ‘Cyber Monday’ is pretty ridiculous. I cannot believe that somebody would make up a name for a day that is not even a holiday on a week-day and expect people to like it.

    P.S. Cyber Monday is a stupid name anyway.

    Reply
  20. baby123 -  November 29, 2010 - 9:13 am

    just by looking at the picture looks so tight just want toooo read it <,.

    Reply
  21. sabrina -  November 29, 2010 - 8:54 am

    Raymond, humans are “less” in the “know” about everything… I’d say now they are more quickly ill-informed and must swim greater distances to knowledge.

    Stuart- WOW- creepy… I had just finished saying a very close statement to a co-worker before reading your post- AWESOME~

    FERRET~ HMMM… Black Monday- CYBER-MONDAY because it is monday the first “full workday/weekday” after Thanksgiving, where most folks generally have more time to be on computers…(at work- less family around at home vying for online time~

    LOVE WORDS & LITERATURE~ ONLY BY KNOWING THE MEANING CAN ONE BE INFORMED & THERE BY EDUCATED~

    Reply
  22. Whatever -  November 29, 2010 - 8:33 am

    Rubish!

    Reply
  23. AMY-LOU -  November 29, 2010 - 7:03 am

    WOW THIS IS VERY COOL TO LEARN!!!!!!!! THANKS

    Reply
  24. Paulo -  November 29, 2010 - 6:07 am

    With the exception of the first paragraph, where the origin of the term is explained, the rest of the article gets lost in the meaning of “cyber” and forgets the original intent. I believe it to be somehow obvious that the “marketing strategy” was to motivate people to buy things online (hence “cyber”) after the “big” opportunity for in-store purchases on “Black Friday” passed, but the article does not mention it, or any other explanation, anywhere.

    Reply
  25. raymond -  November 29, 2010 - 6:04 am

    how wonderful is the world of computer and technology.it seems as if human beings are in the know of everything.

    Reply
  26. Dwayne -  November 29, 2010 - 5:20 am

    I’ve read most of Gibson’s books, including the ones mentioned hear. His concept of “cyberspace” from the Sprawl Trilogy is not what the Internet is today, not yet, not by far. I can only think of one nation that approaches “1984″, North Korea. If you want a scarier analogy to most of today’s overly powerful governments, then read Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”. Even the United States is not that far along yet, but one can see the groundwork being laid.

    Reply
  27. KStil -  November 29, 2010 - 5:00 am

    You know, you never actually said what Cyber Monday was.

    Reply
  28. Cyberquill -  November 29, 2010 - 2:52 am

    That explains the first half. Now I’m waiting for the post about the origin of “quill.”

    … U.S. mathematician Norbert Wiener came up with “cybernetics,” the study of human control functions and of mechanical and electronic systems designed to replace them. Weiner applied statistical mechanics …

    So which is it? Wiener or Weiner?

    Reply
  29. Michael Dadona -  November 28, 2010 - 11:57 pm

    THE RELATION

    What I can relate from Gibson’s description to the technological experience is enhancing input data through computer engineering followed by programmable processing system to reach several desired outputs.

    “UNTHINKABLE COMPLEXITY”

    Having said, “unthinkable complexity”, is a matter of continual development property which is can be carried by next developer generation. Similarly, the use of digital element where its wave pattern upgradeable to infinity limit from one generation to the next generation of developers.

    Reply
  30. Ferret -  November 28, 2010 - 11:40 pm

    But why is Cyber Monday on Monday?

    Reply
  31. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  November 28, 2010 - 10:00 pm

    (Those were cute little flowgates: Like teenie-tiny men: The gas flowed in via the head, and out either leg: switch-steered by pressure on the arms.)

    Reply
  32. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  November 28, 2010 - 9:57 pm

    Then–

    Correctly it is– ‘e-cyber’-Monday as distinguished from the gas-dynamic-cyber-Monday computers with micro-dynamic flow-gates, invented in the 1960′s for steering aircraft while avoiding EMP and other electronic hazards.

    Reply
  33. Zachary Overline -  November 28, 2010 - 9:00 pm

    @Stuart: I was totally thinking the same thing. Almost eerie in its accuracy.

    Reply
  34. Zachary Overline -  November 28, 2010 - 8:06 pm

    Whereas the word “cyber” has its actual application, I think nano is pretty damn overused these days. It’s totally become a buzzword far divorced from its original meaning in nanotechnology.

    Reply
  35. Daniel -  November 28, 2010 - 6:02 pm

    Cool

    Reply
  36. Anthony -  November 28, 2010 - 5:07 pm

    Interesting how the meanings of words evolve over time. By the way, Norbert “Wiener” is spelled two different ways in this article (I’m guessing one is a typo).
    “…when U.S. mathematician Norbert Wiener came up with “cybernetics,” the study of human control functions…”
    “Weiner applied statistical mechanics to engineering…”

    Reply
  37. Stuart -  November 28, 2010 - 5:06 pm

    That quote from William Gibson’s Neuromancer is as prophetic when describing the Internet now as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is as prophetic when describing the totalitarian regimes of today.

    Reply
  38. Silver Fang -  November 28, 2010 - 4:32 pm

    It’s fascinating how words can start out meaning one thing and then come to mean something else entirely.

    Reply

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