I just learned what modem means. My whole life has been a lie

The Shining, but with a modem
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Did you know there are words just walking around out there waiting to blow up your day? Words that you thought you knew. Like wi-fi, for example. You thought you had a mutual understanding: you learned the definition of the word, how to spell and pronounce it, and in exchange you could go through life using it without studying the entire history of language. An innocent life! That's how I lived once. And then a portmanteau absolutely wrecked my shit.

A portmanteau, if you don't know, is the smooshing together of two words to make a new one. Like brunch. Or biopic. Or email. Obvious, right? Well—until today, I had no idea how many other words in tech are portmanteaus rather than strong, independent creations imbued with their own meaning. The one that truly sent me reeling was modem.

Deep breath. "Modem?" Fake word. It's just a modulator-demodulator. Of course it is. A modem's whole job is to modulate an analog signal into a digital one, and then demodulate it again on the other end.

How did I not know this? I'd chalk this up to an age thing, but I was using modems in my teens when dial-up was still relatively hot technology. I guess by then the portmanteau was so ingrained, nobody was going around explaining how modems were the brunch of the technology world.

Except, like, it turns out there are so many brunches of the technology world. There are portmanteaus everywhere. It's a mimosa minefield out there.

"Codec?" Not some cool word we plucked from the ether for communications and video formats. Just a coder-decoder.

"Bit?" A binary digit. Whoever came up with that one was really stretching it, honestly.

"Pixel?" Another portmanteau!! A pixel is a picture element.

Curveball—did you know Sega's name is a shortening of Service Games of Japan? This is perhaps the most shocking bit of useless games trivia I've learned since realizing the pun in Miles "Tails" Prower.

Learning all these portmanteaus makes me want to sit and stare off into space like TV's Pablo Escobar. They seem so obvious. How did I not know them? How do I go on using technology every day when it could betray me at any moment? 

I guess my only recourse is to steer clear of tech and retreat into the fantasy worlds of my favorite games. Nothing in Dragon Age could possibly hurt me, right

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).