English speakers who use computers—and that’s just about everybody these days—are likely familiar with the word app, which The American Dialect Society elected its WOTY for 2010. WOTY is an acronym for Word of the Year, and app is a shortened form of application that has taken on a life of its own. The three-letter app is actually the result of two shortenings, because application was already a reduced version of application program, meaning ‘a computer program devoted to a certain application.’ Of course every computer program has an application to something, or else why would the programmer have created it in the first place? For that reason, the truncation of application program to application (as well as to program) was a logical step. The further shortening to app distinguishes a computer application from an application for a job, an application for a mortgage, the application of mulch to a garden, and the more abstract sort of application that Noah Webster defined as ‘the act of fixing the mind; intenseness of thought; close study; attention.’ He gave as examples the phrase “to injure the health by application to study” and the sentence “Had his application been equal to his talents, his progress might have been greater.”

Although the shortened app has been around in English for years (I’ve heard it for at least a decade), The American Dialect Society chose it as its WOTY for 2010 because of app‘s sudden surge in usage. In the middle of 2010, Apple opened its online iTunes App Store, which proved popular enough to see millions of downloads in a short time. All that activity in recent years soon carried app outside the English-speaking world. I recently did an Internet search for “un app” and got over half a million hits. They corresponded primarily to pages in Spanish, but also to some in French, Italian, and Catalan, in all of which languages un is likewise the masculine indefinite article; change the search term to “um app,” and tens of thousands of Portuguese hits turn up as well. Notice that although the feminine aplicación exists in Spanish, and the equivalent in the other Romance languages, the foreign [to them] app gets put into the default gender for something indeterminate or borrowed, which is masculine. Sorry, ladies: on behalf of the Romance languages, please accept my appology.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: How Spanish arrived at llegar « Spanish-English Word Connections
  2. Trackback: The French Connection « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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