People love to understand the significance behind the names of the products they use. Apple fans seem to be more curious than most. (For example, don’t you want to know what the “I” in “iPad” stands for? (Click here for the answer.)
This week, Steve Jobs announced a makeover for the iPod nano. You’re probably familiar with “nano-“ from before it was a music player, mainly in the word nanotechnology and maybe, if you have geeky inclinations, in the concept of nanobots. Clearly, nano- means small, but what is the precise degree of diminutive in the definition?
One billionth, that’s how tiny we’re talking. Nano derives from the Greek nanos, which means “dwarf,” and words like nanoliter and nanogram in fact mean “a billionth of a liter” and “a billionth of a gram.” But other nano- terms are satisfied simply to mean “darn small.” Nanoplankton is an example.
If it seems to you like nano- is overused, you aren’t alone. Students at Adelaide University poked fun at the saturation of “nano-this” and “nano-that” by coining the term “nanofortnight,” meaning “one-billionth of a fortnight (two weeks), equaling approximately 1.2 miliseconds. Here’s a suggestion: Femto-, pico-, and zepto- signify even smaller increments than nano-. Let’s s start introducing these size designations into conversation. Maybe Apple will debut the iPod Zepto in a few years.