Thursday, August 09, 2007

Craplets: Toward More Picturesque Speech

While HazZzMat regularly hurls jeremiads at lefties who cleverly slice and dice our language and traditions to subvert them, we've always admired a clever turn of phrase, a witty story, or an apt and enjoyable neologism. Particularly if it's good natured. And did we say witty?

We just uncovered one of these gems, a witty neologism, in today's Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, WSJ online is a subscriber service only so we can't link to it. But lo and behold, we found the author's predecessor article online in another pub, dating back to April. (Wonder if that's a copyright issue?)

Anyhow, Walter Mossberg describes an interesting phenomenon, well-known apparently to PC-users (Wonker uses a Mac). Here's the deal. You go out and buy a new PC or Windoze laptop, which, apparently, Mossberg did recently, purchasing a Sony machine. You then go through the usual ordeal of getting the PC up and running. But now you have to deal with a lot more stuff you didn't bargain on. Let Mossberg tell it:
The problem is a lack of respect for the consumer. The manufacturers don’t act as if the computer belongs to you. They act as if it is a billboard for restricted trial versions of software and ads for Web sites and services that they can sell to third-party companies who want you to buy these products.

I’m distinguishing these programs, sometimes called “craplets,” from the full-featured, built-in Sony software meant to enhance the computer, or from entire, useful programs Microsoft builds into Windows, such as music and photo organizers.

On my new Sony, there were two dozen trial programs and free offers. The desktop alone contained four icons representing come-ons for various America Online services, and two for Microsoft. The start menu and program menu had more items that I neither chose nor wanted. Napster, a music service I don’t use, was lodged at the lower right of the screen.

The worst was a desktop icon called “Watch Hit Movies Now!” This turned out to be four full-length films from Sony’s movie studios, which the company had preloaded onto my computer at the cost of more than four gigabytes of precious hard-disk space. But they aren’t a gift. If you want to play them, you have to pay Sony.
We thought we'd give you the entire context. Once again, no matter where you go, no matter what you buy, somebody is shoving something else in your face to buy. And the way it's done on PCs is by the manufacturer of the box putting on all manner of stub programs with expiration dates or crippled feature sets, hoping that if you test-drive them, you'll pony up for the (always expensive) full version of the product. And just try to delete these puppies from your hard drive!

But the term we focus on here is "craplets." It's brilliant, whether coined by Mossberg or some unknown hacker. The new word is obviously a portmanteau invention, created by grafting the vulgar word "crap" (one of Mrs. Wonker's favorites) onto the computer term "applet," which describes a small program (i.e., "application" or "app"), routine, or stub that runs voluntarily or involuntarily when you boot up your machine. (I think PC people used to call a subset of these "terminate and stay resident" apps.)

In any event, a "craplet" is a program or routine that you may or may not want, but one that's installed on your new computer anyway by the manufacturer. In this sense, it's essentially a bundled advertisement. You have no choice but to deal with it, either by letting it persuade you to buy the full edition or by forcing you to figure out how to get it off of your already-crowded hard drive.

"Craplet." Short. Succinct. And apt. A stump of a computer program you didn't ask for and don't need. Spam on a disk. Wonderful.

But if you start pondering this clever term in your right hemisphere, you begin to see that it might have further use as an extended metaphor. Like, "Just check out the comment craplets that hang from every story in the Daily Kos."

This neologism could have legs. Let's put it in our lexicon and think about it.

(BTW: In the link above, directing you to Mirriam-Webster's definition of "neologism," we noted with interest the secondary definition: "a meaningless word coined by a psychotic." That's a new one on us. But we thought we'd share.)

(PS: a hat tip to the old Readers Digest which invented a regular monthly column entitled "Toward More Picturesque Speech." It was a fun vocabulary builder for those who grew up with the old version of the magazine. RD reinvented itself some time ago and eventually jettisoned this column. The dead-tree version still survives, although it's not as reliably traditionalist as the old version. To check out the web iteration of RD, click here. Take a trip down Memory Lane, assuming you still remember.)


Walt said...

Actually, a subscription isn't required to read my columns. They are free at . The link to this week's "craplet" reference is:

The link to the original craplets column is:

I didn't invent the term, but I have helped popularize it.

Wonker said...


Thanks for the update. Here's hoping that you and I will have minimal "craplets" to deal with for the remainder of the year--a year that seems to have been front-end loaded with craplets of all flavors, shapes, and sizes!