Being it’s the Thursday before Christmas I thought a somewhat less technical post was in order to get us in the Holiday spirit. It would also be a good opportunity to clear up an issue that’s been nagging me for a long time: what is the proper spelling of cybersecurity? I’ve seen it spelled as a single word (my preference), as two words, and occasionally even hyphenated, which hurts my eyes. It’s an editorial issue for those that obsess over such things, mainly writing geeks, but it has more than its share of tech geeks joining the fray. So, on the Wednesday evening prior to Christmas – after partaking in a glass or two of Holiday cheer – I set out to answer once and for all, if “cyber” is an adjective or a prefix.I began my quest for an answer close to home: on the Cybrary.it website. Unfortunately, my colleagues and I are all over the map. So much so, that I can’t even determine a consensus. (I had to add "cybersecurity" as a tag in the WordPress CMS). But no worries, I decided to turn to Wikipedia.org. That’s where I get 90% of my information and it has yet to steer me wrong - at least to my knowledge.Things didn’t become any clearer once on Wikipedia.org
. The entries it holds for all things cybersecurity-related are just as varied, though their preference seems to lean towards the two-word spelling. Again, I refused to panic and decided to check with the all-knowing Google, something I should have done at the outset. Google knows everything, even where I’ve been and what I want for Christmas - just like Santa!Punching in both forms of the spelling resulted in Google second guessing me with its suggested spelling corrections. It’s as if Google washed, then threw its virtual hands skyward proclaiming, “I have no clue, but you mortals feel free to hash this out amongst yourselves.” I felt crushed. I had just been left hanging by both Wikipedia.org and Google in the same evening! I buried my face in my hands. The confidence I had earlier about quickly resolving this issue had evaporated. Just then, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a blurry vision of a disheveled person dressed in someone’s notion of futuristic clothing from forty years ago.When the apparition came into focus I stammered, “Who the heck are you?”“I’m Henry. I’m from the future. Well, kind of. Seems I got dropped here to help answer the question you’ve been pondering.”That sobered me right up. “You mean how to properly spell cybersecurity?” I asked.“Well, I have no idea what cybersecurity is, but from the sound of it that isn’t much of a concern where I come from,” the vision replied, starting to noticeably twitch and shake. “But cyberspace is most definitely spelled as a single word and I would infer that cybersecurity and any other words you choose to make up using ‘cyber’ as a root would be handled similarly.”I clapped my hands and said, “Yes! Now we’re getting somewhere,” the sharp sound apparently scaring away my late night visitor. No matter, I gave Google another chance and searched for the origin of “cyberspace.”This time Google didn’t equivocate and served up a direct answer: the first usage of cyberspace was in the 1984 novel, “Neuromancer” by William Gibson. It was the first winner of the science-fiction “triple crown”: the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. Not too shabby! Further research revealed the identity of my ghostly visitor: the protagonist of the novel, none other than Henry Dorsett Case.Having regained confidence that my preferred spelling of cybersecurity was the one and only way, I decided to wrap things up by seeking additional confirmation bias. A quick check of the major IT and cybersecurity websites among them krebsonsecurity.com, PCWorld.com, and even the Department of Homeland Security’s website all opt for the single-word version. The cherry on top was appealing to the final arbiter of all things editorial: The AP Style Guide. Again further confirmation. They dictate to use the single-word spelling of cybersecurity in all writing.As I was about to pour myself another glass of well-deserved Holiday cheer for my exemplary efforts, I sensed another presence in the room. This time it was behind me and it had a distinct British accent.“Feeling all smug and pleased with yourself I see,” it chided.I wheeled around to face him and respond to his challenge, “Now that you mention it, I suppose I am. This is something that’s been bugging me for a long time and I'm glad to finally put it to rest ahead of the holidays!”The pattern that was emerging then hit me, “Ah, I get it. This is kinda like the three ghosts of IT Holiday. Let me guess, you’re the ghost of IT Holiday Present, right?”“Gad! You’re the clever one, aren’t you?”This one was quickly getting on my nerves and I felt like taking a swing at him, but thought better of it. Boxing with spirits never ends well. “Okay, let me have it. How do you spell cybersecurity across the pond?”“Anyone from a civilized country spells it properly as two separate words,” my visitor scoffed. He then added, “And it’s spelled using two words not only in the UK but throughout the whole of Europe.”It then hit me why it might be spelled using two words on Wikipedia.org: it’s a UK-based project. I began to rationalize the single-word spelling being the proper way because after all, we don’t spell color as “colour” or analyze as “analyse” around these parts!I looked up in time to see the spirit departing via the window. “Fancy a pint?” he asked, “I’m off round the pub.” I bid him farewell as I had enough spirits – of both kinds – for one evening.My confidence somewhat shaken but not terribly stirred, I decided to call it a night being reasonably confident in my original position. I figured that conclusive evidence would continue to elude me, but I could live with that.Suddenly a mist began to seep from through the door. It then occurred to me that I was still a spirit short. With patience running out, I shouted, “This better be quick! I really need to get to bed,” before the apparition had fully materialized.To my astonishment, a beautiful goddess was standing before me. Literally. It was a Greek Goddess, which seemed sort of backwards. After all, I was expecting the ghost of IT Holiday Future. Not someone from Antiquity. Before I could run my concerns by her, she grabbed me by the wrist and yanked me through the wall.We came out on the other side to what I assumed was an ancient library, the Library at Alexandria, maybe? I turned on the charm and said, “Say aren’t you a long way from home? This looks like Egypt. Not exactly Athens. What say we morph back to my place and polish off the rest of that Holiday cheer?”She ignored me and yanked a large papyrus manuscript from the shelf and dropped it into my arms. The dust flying off as it landed. I turned the pages and said, “Sorry, but this is all Greek to me,” hoping to elicit at least a chuckle. Instead, she flung another book that bounced off my head and landed on the ground. I picked it up and read the title: “Greek Etymologies for Dummies.”It was like a bright light shone down from Heaven. According to linguists, “cyber” is what is known as a bound morpheme: a combining form used to form new words. From an actual linguist:
It is of Classical Greek origin like many of our scientific and technical vocabulary elements– and the usual pattern for such borrowings is to combine them with other elements into one word. Bio, neo, photo are all parallel examples – when made into new compounds they are written together with the element following: not bio informatics but bioinformatics, etc.
And that appears to be what the future holds for how all spellings using the “cyber” root will play out – not just for cybersecurity. With that, I tucked myself in like all the other good Cybrarians, ready for a long winter’s nap. With visions of routers and subnet masks dancing in our heads. Just as I was drifting off to blissful slumber I awoke with a start. To my shock and horror it occurred to me that “Cyber Monday” looks really weird when spelled “cybermonday.” Argh!