Printable Version
Pronunciation: ter-ê-flahp Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: It is not the fear of failure or a failed terrorist plot but a trillion (billion outside the US) FLoating point OPerations per second, used in measuring the speed of a computer processor.

Notes: Today's Good Word, like our earlier offering, dongle, has remained in the captivity of computer programmers. It will probably have to escape this limited range of application to develop a family with variants like terafloppy "having or capable of many teraflops, extremely fast" or terafloppily, as 'a processor zipping 'terafloppily through its operations".

In Play: Leave it to the boys and girls who gave us blog to come up with funny terms for all the new things brought by the Age of Technology. But we can't just leave this word where it was introduced: "Give all those files to Gilbert; he'll get through them in a teraflop." If a second was fast in the 20th century, certainly we must move up to a teraflop in the 21st: "I'm just putting on my lipstick; I can't get ready to go out in a teraflop."

Word History: The Age of Technology is a glutton for new words from a language that is no longer geared to produce them. English now has only about 30 suffixes for adding to old words to make new ones, so new ways must be devised. (Eskimo languages have about 200.) Acronyms are a very new way to create words and one used most widely in English. Even so, taking the first two letters of floating point and the first two of operations (hey, what happened to point?), is an odd if not misguided way to create an acronym. The prefix tera- is even more unusual. It comes from Greek teras "monster" and does not even suggest its meaning "trillion". The Greek word came from an old PIE verb meaning "do, make", the same root that gave Sanskrit karma "act, deed".

Dr. Goodword,

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