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April 03, 2020  |  Friday words #214  |  4387 hit(s)

I am not a trend chaser (I'm a "thought-follower," as one my colleagues refers to themself), but I have had a run of topical Friday words recently. And today comes another (maybe two!).

People these days are doing a lot of video conferencing, and a popular app for that is Zoom. Mischievous or malevolent people have discovered an interesting new way to harass people, namely by zoombombing meetings. (Sometimes, but less frequently[1], called zoom-crashing.)

To use Zoom, you join a meeting using a nine-digit meeting ID. It's apparently not hard to find meeting IDs online. And although nine digits sounds like a lot (a billion!), simply picking those numbers at random might get a determined hacker into some live meeting or other. Once the Mallory has gotten into the meeting, they might try sharing disruptive images or otherwise causing trouble.

The genesis of the term (terms) is interesting, though at this point maybe still speculative? Zoomcrashing seems like a natural coinage, analogous to something like gatecrashing and wedding-crashing. As noted, zoombombing seems for the moment to be more popular. The ‑bombing part is probably based on something like to photobomb. The sense of unexpectedly appearing somewhere is a fit, as is the sense of perhaps doing this as a prank. And I guess if the zoombomber spoils the meeting the way a photobomber spoils a photo, that fits also. Ok, then.

By the way, if you're a Zoom host, the company has published some guidelines to help you reduce the possibility of being zoombombed, or if you are, how to mitigate the breach.

For origins this week, I have a term that with some imagination might be considered timely. The term is petri dish, which is used to grow microbes and other tiny fauna.[2] The term is often spelled lowercase these days, but formally it's still spelled with a capital P—because it's an eponym.

Petri was Julius Petri, a German microbiologist who invented the dish that's now named for him. He worked as an assistant to Robert Koch, a pioneering microbiologist who (to quote Wikipedia) "gave experimental support for the concept of infectious disease." (See how timely this is?) While Petri worked in Koch's lab, he and some others invented what became the technique of putting agar (gelatin) in the dish and then adding cultures to be studied.

At least, that's the story. It turns out that the Petri dish might have been invented by others, or at least independently. If that's true, this wouldn’t be the first time that an invention was named for someone who was lucky, influential, or who had the right friends.

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[1] In my experience over, like, the last week.

[2] Obligatory joke: there's a special name for that? I thought it was just the plate at the back of the fridge.