Cyber Monday and the Origin of the Word “Cyber”

For many, Cyber Monday provides the perfect shopping solution: all the holiday deals with none of the holiday crowds. But where did this term come from? Cyber Monday was first used in 2005 by Shop.org to encourage people to shop online; it refers to the Monday following Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving and one of the busiest shopping days of the year).

Until the advent of the internet, cyber was used in the formation of words relating to computers, computer networks, or virtual reality. This usage can be traced to the word cybernetics, which was ushered into English in the 1940s by the scientist Norbert Wiener. Cybernetics refers to the study of mechanical and electronic systems designed to replace human systems. It comes from the Greek term kybernḗtēs meaning “helmsman” or “steersman.” The first instance on record of cyber as a combining form is from 1961 in the Wall Street Journal: “A major difference between the Cybertron and conventional computers…is the ability of the Cybertron to make use of raw data and signals.” In 1966 fans of the popular sci-fi show Doctor Who heard another cyber combining form: cybermen. These deathly cyborgs have popped up over 20 times throughout the show’s run.

In current usage, cyber is largely used in terms relating to the internet. One notable coinage in the evolution of this term is the word cyberspace by novelist William Gibson. He used it first in his 1982 story “Burning Chrome.” He used it again in his 1984 novel Neuromancer in a passage that many believe captures the sense of wonder that permeated the introduction of the internet to mainstream culture:

 “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”

Whether you love or loathe the idea of a day of online shopping, Cyber Monday has already been with us for over 10 years. As technologies continue to change, the ways we use the word cyber are likely to adjust, too! What will the next wave of cyber-realities bring?

Feeling smarter? See if you really know why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday.