Incoming

anguage, metaphor and the information super highway: Journalists struggle mightily to find an alternative to the much over-used term "information superhighway" -- the catch-all phrase for anything that transmits more than just plain old phone conversation. A shortened "infoway" has begun surfacing in English-language publications, as has simply the "I-way".

Meanwhile, foreigners, in their languages, face their own challenges in capturing the concept in an appropriately descriptive metaphor. The word "information" -- "a telling or being told something," according to Webster's -- is derived from the Latin informatio, to outline or sketch. The shortened "info" seems likely as the standard prefix for the information superhighway concept, since it has been adopted in nearly every Indo-European language.

So the challenge abroad is figuring out what to put after the "info." The Germanic "infobahn" has become a popular replacement for information superhighway in English. "Bahn" implies the famously fast, byway of Germany. The American highway sometimes conjures up similar images, but it also evokes potholes, traffic jams, construction and occasional random shootings.

Italy's Ing C. Olivetti & Co. has come up with "infostrada." "Strada" is Italian for street, and is far from the German "bahn" or the American "highway." Fellini's classic film "La Strada" captures the Italian sense of street -- a place where people gather to chat, show off their clothes and put themselves on parade.

The Russian language could accomodate two metaphors: "info" from the Russian "informatsiya" combined with Russian for street, or "ulitsa." That would make "info-ulitsa." "Ulitsa" is closer in meaning to the Italian "strada" than to the German "bahn." As in Italy, a street in Russia is a place for mingling and chatting. And that may be appropriate in Russia, which lacks real highways as well as the fast-paced, hard-driving business culture in the United States or the cool efficiency of Germany.

However, there is a Russian word roughly translated into English as highway: "shosse," (pronounced shawSAY). "Infoshosse" would be closer to information superhighway in English. There is one caveat, however. Shosse in Russian is actually derived from the French chaussee, for road or causeway, and is said to have come into Russian during Russia's defeat of Napolean's armies and subsequent occupation of Paris by Russian troops. The concept of speedy anything in Russia is probably foreign, as is the idea of a highway.


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