How good is your “Siliconese”? 4 funny examples to test your knowledge.

It all began in Silicon Valley. Let’s look at how this slice of California is creating its own language — a language that you’ll probably end up having to learn sooner or later. Since this new language is still in its infant stages and many don’t understand it, you won’t believe how funny some of these “Siliconese” presentations can be. Keep reading to see my favorite examples of Siliconese “fails” in action.

Where did the name “Siliconese” come from?

The vortex created by the birth of Hewlett-Packard, Macintosh, Windows, Google and many others in this enigmatic section of California has spun out of control to infiltrate the everyday life — and vocabulary — of nearly every person in the civilized world. In many foreign languages, they don’t even bother to create their own words for “laptop computer,” “Wi-Fi” or “smartphone.” Other cultures simply adopt the words exactly as they appear in English.

This tech revolution is literally writing a new spoken language — an international language — and we get to contribute to it. We are all giving birth to this new language, and it’s only appropriate to name it after the valley of its origin.

Thus, we get the name: “Siliconese.”

David Dreshfield gets the credit for being the earliest reference I could find on how to define “Siliconese” back in 2008. He says, “Taking inspiration from the Latin phrase ‘in silico,’ I adopted the title of ‘Siliconese’ to express my take on dialogue in a Web 2.0 world. In a time where technology is virtually all-pervasive in our lives, it has rapidly become very necessary to adapt, to the best of our abilities, to the veritable flood of new ideas and tools. It seems that not a day of this new era goes by without enterprising minds among the wired and wireless masses discovering some new way to establish connections never before conceived between technology and some new and untapped facet of human existence.”

Hold on — Who’s writing the Siliconese dictionary?

Unfortunately, nobody has written the Siliconese dictionary yet. Please tell me when you do because right now, everyone’s still working out the kinks of it and throwing these words around like super-bouncy balls.

Many “labor pains” are involved in the birth of any language — as we’re seeing today in the world of Siliconese. These new words often sound powerful and impressive, so many begin using them without understanding what they really mean just to sound like an insider — and why not? Startups especially need to do everything they can to sound as much like new geniuses as possible in order to get funding. Here’s where we start running into problems because this “fake it until you make it” mindset neglects the fundamental purpose of any language:

Language must help you understand each other better.

On the contrary, Siliconese — as others currently speak it — sounds anything but “user- friendly.” Why?

It’s hard to understand others when you’re literally participating in the creation of the very language that you’re speaking in — or when you’re just desperately trying to sound more intelligent to impress a board of investors or fellow programmers.

Brad Feld, Director of the Foundry Group, knows exactly what I’m talking about as he explains:

“Today, there are hundreds of words that people throw around in the context of their startups. Many, like ‘traction,’ are completely meaningless. If you need a dose of some of the language, just watch a few episodes of ‘Silicon Valley.’

“I’ve noticed something recently. For founders outside Silicon Valley, and even plenty within Silicon Valley, the language seems forced. Fake. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Words are used incorrectly. They are strung together in meaningless sentences. They are used to obscure reality or try to avoid the meat of a question … It feels like some people are trying to fake it, without really knowing what they are saying … Sometimes it’s simply lack of understanding of what the words and metrics mean and how they work. But other times, it’s clearly an effort to demonstrate how much progress has been made by either avoiding the real metrics, obscuring what is going on, or trying to come up with a big number to get someone’s attention.”

I believe it’s the insanely competitive and lucrative nature of Silicon Valley’s businesses that’s making Siliconese sound both as astute and vague as humanly possible — on purpose.

Yes, it might even be easier to learn Japanese instead. Look at the following examples to see what I mean.

Failure Success

1 – Sometimes Siliconese will take words that we’re familiar with and give them entirely new meanings. Here’s a perfect example of a Siliconese “redefinition” based on real events:

This is CEO Gavin Belson on the show “Silicon Valley.” who’s trying to use Siliconese to save his company after the epic public failure of his live-stream media event in front of thousands of people nationwide.

Gavin says, “To the ignorant or those in conventional industries, the recent Nucleus glitch may seem like a failure. But we in this Valley all know that failures just like this one are really stepping stones. What those in dying business sectors call ‘failure,’ we in tech know to be pre-greatness.”

When asked if he thought that public humiliation was a good thing, he replies, “No, history is telling you that.”

Then he goes on to compare himself to Steve Jobs and many others. However, his presentation continues to drown until he finally makes ridiculous promises to invent something better … which no one has actually created yet.

How much of the ”Silicon Valley” show is based on reality? — More than you would think.

“At first I was thinking this is an exaggeration, but it’s not…[it’s true of] Yahoo, Google and Facebook.” — Opsmatic chairman and founder, Jay Adelson


2 – To make Siliconese “easier” to understand, experts suggested using flow charts in presentations to simplify terms like “the modern-application architecture process:”

Yes, this presentation really happened. At one point, even the speaker began losing his own train of thought, and I’m not surprised. I dare you to try and follow more than three arrows from start to finish — it’ll make you dizzy. Why does this remind me of Chutes and Ladders?

White Board

3 – Here’s a Siliconese real-life illustration of the “relationship of program components:”

Matthew Ghali shared that the code creators were desperately trying to explain their program components. However, they’d named the components after the languages that they’d coded each component in. That means no one could understand how it worked —I mean, no one…and no, it wasn’t even a joke.

To put it into perspective, this mind map is kind of like introducing your friend to people at an international conference by only saying the language that they speak:

“Tommy, I’d like you to meet English, French, Italian and Spanish, and over there is my good friend Mr. Portuguese, who’s an expert in Mrs. Korean’s field.” Now that’s helpful, isn’t it?

“You know you’re dealing with pros when components are named after the language they’re coded in, not function.. Priorities..” — Matthew Ghali


4 – Siliconese may often use long, technical quotes that might mean something to about three people in the audience but just confuse and infuriate the rest. Here’s a great example of a real presentation that does that; he called it: “Software Engineering Doesn’t Work.”

Are you impressed because he quoted a NATO paper? Now he couldn’t have used a longer quote if he tried because his screen is already extending from the ceiling to the floor, and if the text was smaller, people couldn’t read it. — But does it make sense? I’d love to hear a translation of this one from somebody.

Remember that it takes a sense of humor to learn Siliconese. If you want a head start, then — yes, the easiest way is to watch “Silicon Valley.” To speak Siliconese, you don’t have to become a robot, but it might really help.

Tell me what you love or hate about Siliconese on Twitter. You can also email me your comments or contact me to write about topics like this one on your blog.