Raw "cyber" information

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A recent xkcd:

Mouseover title: "We had gathered that raw information, but had yet to put it all together."

Hate to spoil the joke, but Google Scholar finds 452 publications on cyberintelligence since 2014; 8,330 publications on cybersecurity in the same period; and 30,200 publications using the bare lexeme cyber.

Google Books ngrams won't track past 2008, and suggests a leveling off around 2004, but clearly the graph didn't go to 0 in 2005:

And the NYT index gives 1,290 results for the lexeme cyber within the past 12 months — but only 107 hits for the 12 months from 1/1/2000 to 1/1/2001. (Or looking at one of the many prefixed forms, 771 hits in the last 12 months for "cybersecurity", versus 3 hits for the period 1/1/2000 to 1/1/2001…)

So what does Randall Munroe, always extraordinarily well informed, have in mind? I'm not sure — maybe the decline of cyberpunk?

Or maybe the 9/11 cross-reference was just too good to pass up?

Update — on balance, I think this is a version of the (attributed to) Yogi Berra observation, "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded".

Update #2 — a comment from Ben Zimmer:

For more on the persistence of cyber- in the intelligence community, see my June 28, 2013 Wall St. Journal column, "'Cyber' Dons a Uniform," and my Language Log followup. Also of interest, “The Bizarre Evolution of the Word ‘Cyber’” (io9, Annalee Newitz, Sept. 16, 2013).



  1. other one spoon said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 7:42 am

    Maybe focus on the word "else" in the comic – is there a way to calculate the percentage of those publications that are associated with the U.S. government?

    [(myl) Take a look for yourself — there are plenty of non-U.S.-government cybers (and cyber-s). Among the most recent 10 mentions of "cyberattack" in the NYT, only 2 are related to the U.S. government. And there are reasonably common formations like "cyberinsurance" that are basically never about the government. ]

  2. Stan said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 8:06 am

    I see cyberspace used quite often as an example of outmoded terminology, and the likes of cybercafe, cyberculture and cybercommerce seem to me to share its passé flavour. Maybe Munroe had something like that in mind.
    On the other hand there are terms like cyberbullying, which doesn't feel dated in the same way at all. Wiktionary has a long list of them.

  3. AKMA said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 8:07 am

    Surely "no one else" functions idiomatically to suggest that the "cyber-" usage reflects stodgy, out-dated efforts at characterising online phenomena, rather than as a literal suggestion that nobody whatever has employed that locution.

  4. mollymooly said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 8:29 am

    A 1990s housing development in Leixlip, Ireland, was called "Cyber Plains" by the developer, because each house had two telephone lines, one for your phone and one for your dial-up modem. Fortunately for posterity, locals objected and it was renamed "Glen Easton".

  5. CL said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 8:32 am

    I'm with Stan and Randall – it feels outdated. Cyberspace is definitely on the decline (per Google ngrams), and subjectively, it makes me think of early 2000s internet culture: chat rooms, search engines other than Google, etc.

    I wonder if it has something to do with morpheme productivity rather than raw frequency. There are certain compound forms that have caught on (and continued to increase in frequency as more people use the internet and the relevant phenomena increase in importance – cyberbullying, cyberattack, cybersecurity, etc.), but perhaps the prefix isn't being used to generate nearly as many new compounds as it was in the late 90s, early 00s. Not sure how to test that with ngrams, but presumably there's a way to look at it whether there or elsewhere.

  6. cameron said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 9:31 am

    "Cyber Plains" would have been an interesting place name. Here in New York we have a neighborhood called "Ozone Park" because a housing developer a century ago thought that the word "ozone" connoted fresh air.

  7. ratnerstar said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 10:08 am

    The issue is that there are some communities (mainly: the government, the mainstream media) where "cyber" has stuck, while there are other communities ("hackers," infosec professionals, etc.) where it feels outmoded. Monroe belongs much more to the second group than the first.

    I actually think "cyber" is making a bit of a comeback due to increased media reporting on what the government calls "cyber espionage" or "cyber attacks."

  8. Rodger C said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 10:15 am

    "Ozone" as a synonym for fresh air was pretty widely used into the mid-20C, I think, or up until the real thing began to be a widespread cause of public concern.

  9. Will said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 10:38 am

    From my experience (computer science grad student specializing in security), the terms cybersecurity, cyberintelligence, etc are rarely used by actual security professionals. The term was adopted by the federal government and it is primarily used by them and the media reporting about the various government programs. Usage of those terms are often an indicator that the user doesn't really understand the field of security and is just parroting whatever information they thought they understood or worse just made up.

  10. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 10:50 am

    "Cyber" is still widely used in the security and intelligence fields. I edit articles for two technically oriented websites and the typical article contains at least a half-dozen instances of "cyber" as a prefix; some contain more than 20 such instances. The average article contains about 1200 words.

  11. KevinM said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 11:37 am

    This is an in-group "no one else." It doesn't really mean that nobody says it; paradoxically, it kind of implies the opposite. It means that it's become a cliché, i.e., that it's not used by the forward-looking types we care about.

  12. D.O. said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 11:47 am

    Nowadays everything cool should begin with i- or e- . But iintellegence or eintellegence are just atrocious, so let's stick with cyber.

  13. DWalker said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

    Cyberspace is outdated? Bring back the Information Superhighway!

  14. Bloix said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 2:44 pm

    The business folk say cyber. E.g., "cyber insurance" – http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/13/us-cyber-insurance-survey-idUSKCN0RD0XO20150913

    But the techies have moved on.

  15. Haamu said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

    @KevinM: Agreed. For "no one else," read "no one else [who matters]."

  16. Brett said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 4:14 pm

    @D.O.: You just gave a a rough flashback to 1998,

  17. Ben Zimmer said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 8:50 pm

    For more on the persistence of cyber- in the intelligence community, see my June 28, 2013 Wall St. Journal column, "'Cyber' Dons a Uniform," and my Language Log followup. Also of interest, “The Bizarre Evolution of the Word ‘Cyber’” (io9, Annalee Newitz, Sept. 16, 2013).

  18. Dr. Decay said,

    September 15, 2015 @ 3:47 am

    I recall a moment in college the early 1980's when a computer science friend of mine laughed at the title of Norbert Wiener's book "Cybernetics: or control and communication in the animal and the machine" (1948), and even then I thought: "Yeah, nobody says that anymore, do they?". Google Ngrams, does show that its use peaked in 1969, but according to the graph, the word is far from dead.

  19. Jim said,

    September 15, 2015 @ 1:14 pm

    "Fortunately for posterity, locals objected and it was renamed "Glen Easton"."

    Couldn't they have found an Irish name for the place?

  20. J. W. Brewer said,

    September 15, 2015 @ 5:46 pm

    Re the Newitz piece linked by Ben Zimmer suggesting that "cybersex" was a very mid-'90's word, some quick corpus checking suggests that she may likewise be too impressionistically focused on some sort of insider-group usage whereas mass usage rose and fell on a somewhat delayed timeline. The google books n-gram viewer has a 2001 peak for the word and the real drop-off starting after 2004. COCA has it still going strong in 2005 (and generally stronger in the half-decade before that than in the '90's) before starting to trail off.

  21. J. W. Brewer said,

    September 15, 2015 @ 5:50 pm

    Although I should perhaps qualify my previous comment by acknowledging that to the extent the corpora are tracking written use (including by authors trying with various degrees of accuracy v. cluelessness to capture How Kids Today Talk) that may also account for some lag time. Maybe we need a corpus of just old emails-in-informal-register or something like that that would better approximate the rise and fall in How Kids Actually Talk[ed] without that delay effect.

  22. Bloix said,

    September 15, 2015 @ 8:13 pm

    I'm repeating myself, I suppose, but in criminal investigation, risk assessment and management, security, and insurance, "cyber" is the generally accepted term.

    All from today or yesterday:

    Cisco router break-ins bypass cyber defenses

    When Cyber Fraud Hits Businesses, Banks May Not Offer Protection

    DomainTools' Iris interface speeds up cybercrime investigations

    Just How Costly, Fast-Growing Is Cyber Risk?http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2015/09/15/381532.htm

  23. Milan said,

    September 17, 2015 @ 6:06 pm

    To all the previous comments, it should be added that it is possible that the n-grams only capture the increasing number texts about IT issues, while the frequency of the cyber-prefix within the topical literature is actually decreasing. It might be possible to test that by comparing the n-gram of "cyber" with those of other relevant words.

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