Words have a way of changing their definitions over time. I’ve talked about how “awesome” used to have a very strong meaning, but now practically anything can be awesome because the word is thrown around so casually. That’s one way that words change, but there’s another way—a general broadening of the meaning. The word’s basic significance stays the same, but it seems to apply to more people or situations. One of the latest of these involves who’s “racist” and who isn’t. When I was growing up, it was assumed that you had to do or say some pretty terrible, prejudicial things in order to be a racist. You had to act like a southern “states’ rights” person from the 1960s or so, and most of us didn’t meet that standard. That’s all changed though. It’s easy to be a racist nowadays. All you have to do is buy the wrong pancake syrup. Apparently it’s my fault that the best syrups have these old, horrible names that should have been changed about eighty years ago?
Which brings me to a happier subject, “bionics.” The word was coined in 1958, according to my trusted Wikipedia, by a certain Jack E. Steele to mean a combination of biology and electronics. I didn’t know the word was that old when I was growing up in the 1970s, back when I wasn’t a racist yet; I just knew that it was biology plus electronics, like on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. They both had bionic legs and a bionic arm; he had an eye, and she had an ear. These were highly-advanced artificial limbs that had an atomic power pack attached to make them super strong and create excellent TV stories for people like me to watch. The meaning of the word hadn’t changed from its original yet, but it was becoming more popular.
The story here is that once a word becomes popular, it changes. Nowadays we have real bionic limbs like on television, minus the atomic power, but the word “bionic” itself has morphed into something else. New Apple IPads have “bionic chips” that, presumably, are much better than the regular old chips that everyone else uses. Apple always has to be high tech, you know. There’s a “Bionic Floodlight” advertised on television now, an outdoor light that spreads so much light around that I wonder if it’s an environmental hazard. And then there’s the “Bionic Flex Pro,” a garden hose that puts other garden hoses to shame. Here’s its product description on homedepot.com. (I fixed the grammar a little.)
The Bionic Force Pro Garden Hose is made from high performance MXZ-7 Fiber Stronger than ever – to ensure that it is literally the last hose you’ll ever buy. It is crush resistant, corrosion free, rust free, kink resistant, durable and lightweight hose. It is virtually indestructible.
Sounds a lot like Steve Austin and Jaime Summers to me.
The TV shows were based on a novel entitled Cyborg, an okay novel by Martin Caidin from 1972 in which Colonel Austin goes on dangerous missions to save the world. It passed the time just fine. From the TV shows until now, though, bionics have come to mean a lot more than just biology plus electronics. I think anything high tech and strong can be bionic now. Bionic ceiling fans, anyone?