As a teenager, I was witness to the last gasps of a 20th-century lexical leitmotif. The suffix ‘-tron’, along with ‘-matic’ and ‘-stat’, are what the historian Robert Proctor at Stanford University calls embodied symbols. Like the heraldic shields of ancient knights, these morphemes were painted onto the names of scientific technologies to proclaim one’s history and achievements to friends and enemies alike. ‘Stat’ signalled something measurable, while ‘matic’ advertised free labour; but ‘tron’, above all, indicated control. To gain the suffix was to acquire a proud and optimistic emblem of the electronic and atomic age. It was a totem of high modernism, the intellectual and cultural mode that decreed no process or phenomenon was too complex to be grasped, managed and optimised. The suffix emblazoned the banners of nuclear physics’ Cosmotron, modern biology’s Climatron, and early AI’s Perceptron – displaying to all our mastery over matter, life and information.
By the turn of the millennium, though, most of that was gone.
And here’s Nick Heer (hat tip for the link, by the way), writing for Pixel Envy, commenting on Mr. Munns’ piece:
There’s something about the “tron” suffix that connotes a specific time and place in history, and Munns captures that story well in this piece. Munns asks what the equivalent today is, and I’m not sure that’s possible to answer yet. Missing vowels reference a specific period on the web — ahem — as does “CamelCase”, but it’s hard to know what today’s identifying language characteristics are without the benefit of hindsight.
As for Mr. Heer’s closing, pseudo-rhetorical question of what language characteristic of today will define us in the future, I have a guess: emoji.
As it relates to culture and technology, emoji will probably become as synonymous with this generation’s language as hieroglyphics are with the ancient Egyptians. Need examples? The 2015 Oxford Dictionaries Word—yes, word—of the Year was the ‘Face with Tears of Jory’ emoji (😂); Apple’s decision to change their handgun emoji to a water pistol contributed to the conversation around national gun laws in America; and the colorful pictograms’ popularity even landed them a starring role in this flop of a motion picture. I use emoji, my friends use emoji, my grandmother uses emoji; their near universal use unquestionably defines part of the 2000s and the way we chose to communicate.