Internauta – Favorite Spanish Words

August 25, 2009 By: erik Category: Internet, Musings, Spanish 619 views

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thumbinternauta: n. a user of the internet.

Just like an astronaut navigates the stars (still only figuratively, unfortunately), an internauta navigates the complex network of tubes connected computers collectively known as The Internet. The threshold to be considered an internauta is more or less being able to send and read email and watch a video on YouTube. I mainly hear the term on the television news when talking about users of a certain website.

The Spanish wikipedia page for internauta vaguely claims that the term originated in France. The English wikipedia page for internaut claims that its use is spreading, but I haven’t ever seen it written or heard it spoken in English. Personally I’m all for its spread.

I’ve always despised the term “web surfer”. The term was borrowed from someone who rapidly changes television channels, and I can only assume that it originated there (or maybe in pre-television radio?), as a clever metaphor for “looking for a good radio wave”.

  • I really like these posts!
    I love stopping to think about the language I use.
    I doubt channel-surfing originated with such a clever analogy of wading through the channels for the next big radio wave, but after the fact it sure sounds good.

    After a quick search of the etymology of channel surfing I found the following insights:

    ***The new USENET archive at google is a gold-mine for etymology. For example, a bit of research seems to show that the term “net-surfing” originated with Brendan Kehoe, also known as the author of “Zen and the art of the Internet,” an early internet book.

    In this thread from 1991 he uses the term to refer to somebody browsing telnet sites (there was no web at the time). Two messages later, Ron Newman talks about how he likes the term and wants to spread it!

    However, others claim independent coinage, including possibly Mark McCahil the Gopher developer (they used the metaphor a lot) and others back to the 80s who talked about Information Surfing. Paul Saffo used the term “information surfing” in a 1988 magazine column and reports it was commonly used and “definitely already in the zeitgeist” before he wrote it. Even Marshall McLuhan used the metaphor of surfing data like ur-surfer Duke Kahanomoku.

    In addition, the term “channel surfing” shows first use in January 91, and seems to have originated at the same time. Several of the early users of forms of the term claim they did so due to a love of real water surfing, so this appears to be a metaphor of many parents.***


    It makes sense that a word describing a watercourse or a passage through which boats might travel could metaphorically be applied to an electronic channel through which TV signals might be delivered. The first inkling for this was in 1848 in a description of telegraph circuits.

    If you were to guess, what date might you place on the a first citation for the following Oxford English Dictionary definition?

    “That through which information, news, trade, or the like passes; a medium of transmission, conveyance, or communication…”

    Does 1537 surprise you?

    I mentioned channel surfing. This got me wondering why it was called channel surfing.

    It seems a no brainer that since the internet became big after the advent of TV remote controls that surfing the web grew out of channel surfing and sure enough the first citation for channel surfing was 1986 while web surfing seems to have been 1992.

    • Dammit. I hate it when reality isn’t as clever as hindsight. I love the imagery of the fat guy in a t-shirt and boxer shorts with the remote scanning channels mapping metaphorically to the buff surfer dude in the wet suit scanning the horizon.

      My favorite bit of your research is the “Information Surfing” part. I can see how a “skimming lightly over the surface of the water/information” imagery might apply to both the internet and television.

      That reminds me, did you know that most people misuse the word “peruse”? It means to read in very close detail, but most people use it to mean skimming briefly over the information. The way languages work, if enough people misuse it, the definition changes.

  • List of spanish words

    My fabourite spanish word is “Fiesta” that means “Party”

    You have to pronunciate with a large “a” “fiestaaaaaaa” and smile!!

    Becouse the life is a big fiestaaaaa

  • now i’m wondering if ofimática has an english equivalent

    • Well, the old “look it up on and press the ‘English’ button” trick says the equivalent is Office Automation. Boring, huh?

      • software snoresville

        “Offimatic” at least would kind of sound “Rube Goldberg-esque”

  • I just wrote about the word internauta in my etymology blog:

  • Congratulations to your nice blog! I found it researching the word internauta. I am going to interpret (some call it simultaneous “translation” – but that does not exist) for Ricardo Bada speaking about blogs at the Cervantes Institute in Stockholm. In Swedish we are called “surfers” and I agree, it is not nearly as “sugerente” as internauta.