13 Tech Terms You Should Never Say Again

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You’d never describe your USB Flash drive as a floppy disk, even though it serves the same purpose. You wouldn’t think of referring to the network admin who runs your servers as a "keypunch operator." So why did you tell your daughter that you are "filming" her dance recital on a digital camera?

Upgrade your thought-to-speech engine by avoiding these 13 confusing or outdated tech terms.

Dial (verb)

Rotary phones were on their way out when Ronald Reagan took the oath of office for the first time. Today, landline phones with physical push buttons are all but dead too. Every time you say that you're dialing someone's number, Alexander Graham Bell turns over in his grave. Just say you're calling, inputting or entering a phone number any time you try to initiate a call.

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Tune In / Stay Tuned

Remember the last time you had to adjust the tuning on your TV? You knew there was a problem with the picture, because Tom Selleck had snow in his moustache and it never snows in Hawaii. You wanted to switch channels during the commercial break, but there was a chance you might come back too late and miss the exciting conclusion so you had to "stay tuned."

Today, most young adults have never even seen a rabbit ear. So please, I'm begging you. Don't tell online users to "tune in" to your live streaming video. And for Jobs' sake, don't tell people to "stay tuned" when you want them to wait for more information after a period of delay (ex: "Will Apple really release an iPhone 6 this year? Stay tuned.").

Tape (verb)

I haven’t owned a VCR in 10 years, but for some reason the verb " tape," referring to the act of capturing a TV show for later viewing, is stuck to my brain like a Wacky Wall Wacker. Don’t make my mistake. You’re either “recording” a show or you’re "DVRing" it. Also, if you're using the word "TiVo" and you don’t own one, stop it.

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When you think about it, the word "webcam" has never made sense. Yes, you can conduct a video chat through your browser using tools like Google Talk, but for the most part, people have always conducted video chats through standalone applications such as Skype, ooVoo and FaceTime.

A camera that’s designed for chats should be called a "connected camera" or a "video-conferencing cam" but not a webcam. Or just call it camera. It’s not like the camera doesn’t work when you’re not online.

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Blog (noun)

We need to stop using the term "blog" to refer to news sites. First the earth cooled and the dinosaurs came. Then personal web pages appeared on hosting sites like Geocities, but adding new content to them was a hassle. Then, in the early 2000s, blog platforms such as Blogger and Wordpress emerged and made it so easy to publish articles that both professional writers and amateur ranters started using them.

Unfortunately, even though it’s nothing more than a type of CMS, the term "blog" has developed a very negative connotation. Google ranks sites it thinks are "blogs" lower in search and if you tell people you work for a blog as opposed to a website, they may wrongly assume that there’s no real journalism going on.

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Desktop Computer

Back when I was in grade school, every computer was horizontal and sat on top of a table. Then, at around the same time that Vanilla Ice topped the charts, manufacturers started producing tower cases that you put on the floor. In the quarter century since, the term "desktop computer" has come to define any PC that isn’t portable, no matter where it stands.

Whether it’s an All-in-One with the screen built-in, a tiny ITX case that sits on a flat surface or a mid-tower that lives on the floor, it’s a "stationary PC" not a desktop.

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Film (verb)

Unless you’re an old-school Hollywood director who insists on using 65mm reels to shoot his next blockbuster, you capture all your videos and photos digitally. So don’t say you’re going to "film" anything, unless you’re taking the reels or cartridges to Fotomat for processing. Instead say that you are "shooting," "recording" or "capturing video."


You wouldn't call your car a mobile air conditioner. You'd never refer to your microwave oven as a digital clock with heating ability or your PC as a Skype box. So why on earth do you still call your pocket computer a "smartphone?"

According to a recent study by UK Carrier O2, typical smartphone users spend 128 minutes a day actively interacting with their devices, but only 12 of those minutes involve voice calls, with the rest of the time split between emailing, text messaging, social networking and consuming on-device content apps. So you need to call that item in your hand a "pocket computer," "a communicator" or something else that reflects its primary purpose.

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Surf the Web

In the mid-nineties, when the web was new, people thought of browsing through sites as a lightweight pastime with little practical value. I'm sure this conversation happened a lot back then:

"What were you doing this afternoon?"
"Oh, I was just surfing the web, killing time."

Today, we use web sites for shopping, banking and doing serious productivity through web tools. You can "use" the web, "browse" the web or "navigate" to a website, but please don't say that you "surfed" the web.

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Desktop Publishing

In the days of yore, magazines and newspapers were laid out on giant lightboxes with glue and exacto knives used to move stories around on the page. Then, in the 1990s, better computers with programs like QuarkXpress and Adobe PageMaker allowed anyone to design printed works with the click of a mouse. This new, computerized form of production was named "desktop publishing" because you could do all the work, right from your desk, without whipping out the wax.

In 2013, however, all layout occurs on computers. There's no more "non-desktop publishing" so it's time to call this process simply "publishing."

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Personal Cloud

GE couldn't get away with calling its refrigerators "personal supermarkets" just as Honda could never refer to its minivans as "personal MTA buses." So how can storage vendors such as Iomega and Seagate call their network-attached hard drives "Personal Cloud" devices?

When it comes to Cloud storage and services, the hardware and software aren't the responsibility of the user. Somewhere a team of network engineers is burning the midnight oil to keep the server with your Dropbox account on it running, but as far as you know, it all just works. A hard drive that's plugged in to your router is not a Cloud unto itself; it's a connected storage device.

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Super Phone

It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's an HTC Droid DNA! As if the term Smart Phone weren't bad enough, some say that high-end handsets are "Super Phones." Don't even think of writing those two words next to each other.

It's presumptuous to roll out the big superlatives for an entire class of gadgets, based on their specs alone. I'll decide whether your handset is super or not; thank you very much.

And when today's $299 quad-core iPhone killer becomes next month's "free with contract" budget special, how will you explain the change to your children? Will you tell them that the Super Phone was hit with Kryptonite?

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Set-Top Box

When I was growing up, our old Zenith TV was deep enough to double as dining room table for a family of four, with room to spare for a cable box. Today, you'd be lucky if you could balance a USB stick on top of most peoples' flat-panels. It's time you stopped calling peripherals like the Roku and Apple TV set-top boxes.

Call them "TV peripherals," "Streaming Media Boxes" or even "Set-Bottom Boxes," but don't pretend they can fix on top of the tube when they can't. Heck, the Roku Streaming Stick is the size of a thumb drive and plugs right into your big screen.

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Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
Add a comment
  • Carpe Computer Says:

    The vast majority of the "oudated" words are much shorter and overall better sounding then the suggested alternatives. "Video-conferencing cam", really?

  • Terry Says:

    Errr - when you and I were at school, computer's that weren't `Desktop' were ` mainframe'. Desktops were so called because they didn't need the whole **** room :-P

  • Shin0bi272 Says:

    wow Ive heard of being picky but son of a bitch. Since you like to over analyze terms go look up ubiquity.

  • John Says:

    Your article is beyond bad. To think you actually put time and effort into constructing something so awful makes me laugh. I would add your name to the list of words never to be spoken. It looks like someone banged their hands on a keyboard (is that term still ok for you?) and came up with it. You're a joke and NYU should be embarrassed by you as a graduate.

  • John Says:

    Your article is beyond bad. To think you actually put time and effort into constructing something so awful makes me laugh. I would add your name to the list of words never to be spoken. It looks like someone banged there hands on a keyboard (is that term still ok for you?) and came up with it. You're a joke and NYU should be embarrassed by you as a graduate.

  • bill gabor Says:

    Mr Piltch is guilty of not practicing what he preaches.
    In the section on the personal cloud he says, and I quote-
    "Somewhere a team of network engineers is BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL
    to keep the sever with your dropbox account on it running"

    May I remind you that the expression "burning the midnight oil" comes from the 19 century,
    before electricity was invented as a way for people to see what they were doing in the dark.
    Burning oil provided illumination.
    So while every other expression you disdain is under 30 years old, you are using one almost
    200 years old. Instead, be like Motel 6 and say-
    "we kept the lights on for you"

  • J. R. Gregory Says:

    The first Zeneth remote control I saw made a click when you pushed one of its 4 buttons. I call the remote cotrol a "clicker" to this day. Whats the big deal?

  • nelson Says:

    What kind of geek vomits in terror anytime someone says "film". I've never read one of your articles before this but I want to certainly avoid them in the future. You're a hack.

  • asdfasdf Says:

    Haha. This was the worst thing I have ever read. How does "inputting" a number sound less dated than "dialing" it?

    And "stationary computer?"

    Are you kidding me?

    Is this satire?

    Are you an idiot?

  • angry Says:

    it's 'wacky wall walker'. sheesh

  • angry Says:

    i will never stop using the 'dial' due to this article. i'm going to expand to new phrases such as 'dial up that website' just so the author of this article can go down in history as the dial dink.
    i guess it's more about word count than content. i also blame yahoo. i need a life and a new home page.
    Is 'home page' still ok to say? How 'bout 'give your head a shake'? is that ok?

  • dan Says:

    Ease of use is also a consideration. Meaning is more than clear enough for everyday communication. Found this article a little hypocritical, considering you're using technically incorrect idioms yourself, such as 'burning the midnight oil' , although there is no oil being burned in any lamps. You should instead say ' using the midnight electricity' .

  • Silly 'ol Bear Says:

    As soon as I read the line that when he was at school, everyone had a desktop computer, I gave up. I had a paper tablet and a pencil in grammar school. This is just typical PC fluff and we all know political correctness is the last bastion of the pseudo-intellectual. I am sure the writer didn't mean it serious;y, at least I hope he isn't that dull-witted. Anyway, I still dial a number, surf the web (how I got here), use a smartphone, tape a program, and stay "tuned in" to a program. That's why God made commercials, for snack breaks, no reason to turn the dial (which I imagine he's never seen).

  • Al Says:

    Shall we get rid of the word "Laptop"? Who actually puts this on their lap? It is usually on a table, floor, or carseat beside you. We should call it a portable computer, or mobile intelligence....oops, that would make this website obsolete...

  • Sunny Sardana Says:

    Okay, so here's another one...... ANY portable computer is a PC. That includes those pieces of fluff built and marketed by Apple. Technically, one should refer to these machines as an Apple PC, or a Lenovo PC, etc.

  • Dave Says:

    This article was the biggest P.O.S. and waste of time. I should have known by the very first sentence in the article: "You’d never describe your USB Flash drive as a floppy disk, even though it serves the same purpose."

    DUH! I wouldn't describe a USB flash drive as a floppy disk because the USB drive isn't FLOPPY! And guess what else? It has no DISK!

  • Jeff Diamond Says:

    [Addendum to why webcam did make sense..] - of course, the "web" in webcam referred not to use of a "web page", but to the "world wide web", which in the 90s was the more popular term for using the internet, since it was the web that suddenly popularized those TCP/IP packets. So in 1990's terms, Facetime is indeed talking "over the web" as well, although it's really just TCP/IP.

  • Jeff Diamond Says:

    He got a lot of the origins of these terms right, but I was surprised he knew nothing of webcams. People always used skype? Are you kidding me? During the heyday of webcams in the 1990s, they were exactly what they said - a very slow transmission through a webpage. Additionally, it was fun to let the camera be controlled by people on the web. These were primarily used for viewing things, not communication. (And there was a certain type of popular viewing on webcams that persists to this day.)

    One of the main points of webcams is that they were incredibly low quality cameras with state of the art transmission rates maybe being 1 frame every 5 seconds - which again, you often still get to this day.

    So yes - "Web Camera" certainly made sense to distinguish these from serious teleconference equipment.

  • Mary Says:

    This is for humor I'm sure. Otherwise, the author would never "drive" a car. The term "drive" means to force animal(s) in a direction. Be sure to "pilot" your car. Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to the icebox for a pop to enjoy while sitting on my davenport.

  • Mike Says:

    Yeah, I came here from Yahoo, too. Wondering, "Who is this guy?" I've never read any of your other columns and this one gives me no reason to do so. I don't like wasting my time reading some guy's personal rant cloaked in the form of News. This article is a perfect example of your definition of a blog - no Journalism here! (And apparently now editorial staff either.)

  • Chris B Says:

    Personal cloud is correct. You can connect to these devices from anywhere. As opposed to trusting an outside company and being limited.

  • Phil T Says:

    Jeez, people are ruthless. Why would anyone take offense to an article created for a little "fun." This was not meant to be some scientific revelation, just agree or disagree to it and be respectful.

  • Matt Street Says:

    Dear sir,
    You may have a point about some of these terms.
    But if you care to make that much of a big deal about, maybe you need to find another language.
    This is how English works. Meanings of words change and carry the baggage of the past.

  • mark Says:

    S's comment is true and false. You do have a point. But..... who cares if we say tube film dial etc. These are relative terms that are short sweet and every person understands. If you'd like to repair the English language you need to start further back my son!

  • mark Says:

    This article is a farce. I came here from surfing yahoo.com to say that. It was so offensive that I wasted my personal time to tell you you're an idiot. Thanks for nothing Avram

  • S Says:

    Dear Mr. Avram Piltch,

    Please read the comments section on the yahoo website where your article is posted.

    Seeing that more than hundreds of people hate your writing, please stop.

    You obviously don't know what you are talking about.

    Why not get an engineering background before you talk about technology.

    Just because you have a writing degree and know how to use a little HTML does not make you a technology expert.

    Bill Gates would cry a little in his heart because this article is technically incorrect.

  • Al Corral Says:

    Slow news day, eh Pittch? You going to start handing out tickets to "terminology offenders"? And who appointed you this worthless assignment?

  • dixon Says:

    Add "rewind" to the list pls.

  • Phil T Says:

    I love how under the "Smartphone" description you use the term "Desktop" lol. Anyway, it's a Desktop computer because it sits on top of a desk....and is a computer.
    So All-in-ones (the new thing) that sit on top of your desk is still a computer that sits on TOP of your DESK.

  • Porto Says:

    I'm also against the term tube to describe TVs or the term LED to differentiate LCDs backlit with LED in place of CFL, instead of refernce to OLEDs or other LED display technologies.