bandwidth

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bandwidth

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Dec 13, 2010 6:40 am

Sometimes, technical jargon experiences a makeover and finds its way into everyday speech as a popular idiom / slang expression.
<2010 It was a much different place then even during the Bush Sr. administration,’ says Joe Hagin, Bush 43’s deputy chief of staff, who also worked for Reagan and Bush 41. ‘There was much less time [under the second Bush] to catch your breath during the day.’ He recalls the constant juggling of issues—from the wars to Katrina—often all at the same time. ‘There’s only so much bandwidth in the organization,’ he says.”—Newsweek, 22 November, page 30>
First, for the original technical meaning, the meaning I knew and loved before the days of digital:

1) BANDWIDTH noun [[1920s]]: The numerical difference between the upper and lower frequencies of a band of electromagnetic radiation, especially an assigned range of radio frequencies [[Note that this bandwidth refers to analog and not digital signals and probably should be called ‘analog bandwidth’]]. (American Heritage Dictionary)

For an electric circuit designed to operate between 1000 HZ and 7000 Hz, the bandwidth would be the difference, which is 6000 Hz. Outside of this range the circuit may not operate properly or may even have a frequency of zero in the case of a frequency filter. As an example, a television station may have been assigned a bandwidth of 6 MHz between two particular frequencies.

With advent of computers and digital signal processing, bandwidth took on a second technical meaning:

2) BANDWIDTH: noun [[1990s]]: The quantity of data that can be passed along a communications channel in a given period of time. [[This is a rate of data transfer (information carrying capacity, data transmission capacity) measured in bits per second (bps)]] (American Heritage Dictionary) [[Note: There does exist a relationship between this bandwidth and the above bandwidth (Nyquist–Shannon Theorem)]]

Note: Dates for the bandwidth definitions provided above and below come from the earliest quotes I was able to find.
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The New Hacker’s Dictionary by E.S. Raymond

BANDWIDTH noun: Used by hackers . . . as the volume of information per unit time that a computer, person or transmission medium can handle. Those are amazing graphics, but I missed some of the detail—not enough bandwidth I guess.

[[Note: Bandwidth can range from high to low.]]

LOW BANDWIDTH [from communications theory]: Used to indicate a talk that, although not content-free, was not terribly informative. That was a low bandwidth talk, but what can you expect for an audience of suits! [[Also, A person with low bandwidth is ‘slow on the uptake’; unable to multitask]]
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So, when you hear of computer folks wanting more bandwidth, what they want is more data transmission capacity. The more bandwidth, the more data can be transferred in a given period of time – ‘the faster the connection.’

In popular (nontechnical) usage BANDWIDTH has taken on several meanings:

BANDWIDTH noun (idiom/slang) [1990s]: capacity, range, resources, content, range of knowledge, diversity of expertise, intelligence, mental capacity, aptitude, time, multitasking ability, mental or physical processing capacity. (And it is not always clear which one is meant). [Since the non-technical ‘bandwidth’ hasn’t made it into any of the dictionaries I checked, these definitions were inferred from sifting through quotes]

The following quotes are from archived sources:
<1992 “To Gates, who has gone through a steady stream of No. 2 executives, Hallman didn’t have enough ‘bandwidth’– a favorite Gates word for breadth of intelligence – to keep up with the company and its chairman.”—Hutchinson News (Kansas, 29 March, page 113>

<1996 “In addition to enjoying an intimate understanding of the business [[stock analysis]] or, in the local slang, ‘sufficient intellectual bandwidth,’ these firms also have deep roots in the community.”—Insight on the News, 22 April>

<1997 “Part of what makes him so enigmatic is the nature of his intellect. Wander the Microsoft grounds, press the Bill button in conversation and hear it described in computer terms: he has ‘incredible processing power’ and ‘unlimited bandwidth,’ an agility at ‘parallel processing’ and ‘multitasking.’ ibid. Microsoft has long hired based on I.Q. and ‘intellectual bandwidth.’”—Time Magazine,13 January>

<1998 “‘Instead of asking if we have time to do something or aptitude to handle a project, (clients) want to know if we have the ‘bandwidth,’ said Chris Lind, an executive at a public relations agency . . .”—Buffalo News (New York), 28 February>

<1999 “Because the bandwidth of opportunity is limitless for workers with the right skills . . . “—Twin Falls Times News (Idaho), 6 September, page 11>

<2001 “BANDWIDTH: Time, in the context of your modem and your internet service provider's information-carrying capacity and speed. Can also be applied to humans, viz, ‘I'd love to help you with that inordinately time-consuming project, but I simply don't have the bandwidth.’”—The Independent (London), 3 November>

<2008 “‘Barack Obama not only had the good judgment to oppose the war in Iraq but, as he told us earlier this year, 'I want to end the mind-set that got us into war.' So it is troubling that a man of such good judgment has asked Robert Gates to stay on as secretary of defense - and assembled a national security team of such narrow bandwidth,’ Miss vanden Heuvel said.”—Washington Times, 2 December>

<2010 “Indeed, in an era in which music occupies an increasingly thin, crowded cultural bandwidth, being a ‘multi-platform operation is essential. ‘Even when we were working on tracks, she’d be putting pictures together and getting images off Google . . . she was always thinking about the whole package.’”—Spin, Vol. 26, No. 7, August, page 68>
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Ken G – December 12, 2010
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Mon Dec 13, 2010 9:55 am

Thanks, Ken - that deserves at least a dozen extra mince pies this Christmas.
The ways language develops are fascinating - you highlight the register-cross route here, of course, but include an example of the word-class-spread route:

...before the days of digital...

(adjective to noun)

This probably warrants a different post, but I've had to adjust to Conservative and nuclear being duplicated into the noun class - by analogy with Labour and coal, say, - to productively fill awkward gaps. There must be other examples.
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Dec 13, 2010 11:23 am

Edwin F Ashworth wrote:[...] you [...] include an example of the word-class-spread route:

...before the days of digital...

(adjective to noun)
To adapt one of the favourite sayings of one of our former site visitors, Hans Joerg Rothenberger, "In English there is no adjective that cannot be nouned". Which is not really true, of course, but it is somewhat true, especially in American English usage: "There's no fixing stupid"; "He's just a barrelful of crazy"; "We have cable [i.e. cable television], so we can watch it on demand".

Ken, I would add 'processing capacity' to your list of non-technical definitions of 'bandwidth'. The said capacity could be either mental or physical. [[Thanks Erik. I've added it to my above definition]]
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Re: bandwidth

Post by zmjezhd » Mon Dec 13, 2010 4:27 pm

I've had to adjust to Conservative and nuclear being duplicated into the noun class - by analogy with Labour and coal, say, - to productively fill awkward gaps.

It might be my prae-caffeine lack of bandwidth, but I am not familiar with nuclear as a noun or coal as an adjective. Coal has always been a noun AFAIK.
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Bobinwales » Mon Dec 13, 2010 6:06 pm

Jim,

Purely for interest's sake, when I first went into shipping, close on 50 years ago now, there were still a couple of steamers that burned coal.

They used to come in to port to coal. Or for for coaling possibly.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: bandwidth

Post by zmjezhd » Mon Dec 13, 2010 6:22 pm

Bob, I have no problem with coal as a noun, a verb, or an adjective. I was just observing that the word was a noun going back to Old English. I was implying that I had never run across the word as originally an adjective that had been nominalized. Likewise, I cannot think of an example of nuclear as an adjective. Maybe , in the phrase going nuclear like its counterpart going postal, though these might arguably be adverbs ...
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Dec 13, 2010 8:44 pm

Two ways to use 'nuclear':

"The government has decided to invest heavily in nuclear power". (Adjective.)

"The government has decided to invest heavily in nuclear". (Adjective as noun.)
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Tue Dec 14, 2010 12:51 am

Jim, I'm referring to the analogy between the old noun Labour (not the same as Socialism) and the new noun Conservative (a needed noun, really), not to the extension in usage. Similarly with nuclear, filling a gap where polysemes of oil, coal, gas (the overall concepts, technologies, companies and infrastructures being implied rather than the raw materials) occupy useful related roles. One often hears of gas and electric rather than gas and electricity when people are referring to the utilities. Again, the slogan Conservative is Cool is extant if arguably untrue.

Nuclear in going nuclear is not an adverb as it does not modify/qualify the verb - go, here, is a link-like verb, where the main lexical content is carried by the adjective nuclear (cf bad in The fruit was going bad. and contrast this with the adverbs rapidly in The fruit was rapidly going bad. and badly in The match was going badly.): rapidly and badly do qualify the verb, telling us 'how the going was proceeding'.

I've seen an article by a grammarian arguing that noun-modifiers, such as coal in coal fires, etc, remain nouns in spite of their obviously adjectival function. He argued that one of the properties of nouns is that suitable ones may modify other nouns. The whole question of word groups (formerly parts of speech) is one more fiercely-contested debate.
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Re: bandwidth

Post by zmjezhd » Tue Dec 14, 2010 3:03 am

"The government has decided to invest heavily in nuclear".

Not something I'd say or write, but I can see it.

Nuclear in going nuclear is not an adverb as it does not modify/qualify the verb - go, here, is a link-like verb, where the main lexical content is carried by the adjective nuclear (cf bad in The fruit was going bad. and contrast this with the adverbs rapidly in The fruit was rapidly going bad. and badly in The match was going badly.): rapidly and badly do qualify the verb, telling us 'how the going was proceeding'.

Works for me.
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Thu Apr 21, 2011 10:59 am

I wrote

Nuclear in going nuclear is not an adverb as it does not modify/qualify the verb - go, here, is a link-like verb, where the main lexical content is carried by the adjective nuclear (cf bad in The fruit was going bad. and contrast this with the adverbs rapidly in The fruit was rapidly going bad. and badly in The match was going badly.): rapidly and badly do qualify the verb, telling us 'how the going was proceeding'.

Listening to snooker commentary the other day, I was jarred by a typical John Virgo comment, "That's finished perfect."
On thinking about it, I have to say I agree with John's choice of wording here, even if it does sound a little odd (at least to me) - he's describing a final state, how the position after the shot is, not the last few split seconds of the motion of the balls. "He's finished perfect" is also correct (with a notional transposition from the position after the shot to the position the player has achieved after the shot). These correspond to a more acceptable-sounding expression such as "He fell sick" , which also uses a predicate adjective, and contrast with "He finishes well" (always gets a double at darts, say).

In "He's finished perfectly on the pink", perfectly is the correct choice, I would argue, not as an adverb, but as a prepositional-phrase modifier, cf "She putted the ball straight into the hole".
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Apr 21, 2011 3:51 pm

On the other hand, "She put the ball straight into the hole" would probably be much less acceptable on the golf-course. The other players would have wented ballistic.
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Apr 24, 2011 3:29 am

And speak of the devil, here is another example of an adjective being nouned in the spirit of ‘digital’ (nuclear energy/power —> nuclear):
<2011 “If the world rejects nuclear, we will wind up adding another full degree Celsius to global warming . . .”—The Week, 22 April, page 14>
Note: For science nitpickers energy and power aren’t the same. Power is energy per unit time, but in this context it really doesn't make any difference.
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Ken – April 23, 2011
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sun Apr 24, 2011 2:21 pm

It does if they send you two bills.
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Apr 24, 2011 4:31 pm

If they send you two bills, they are banking on you not having the energy to protest.
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Re: bandwidth

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Dec 24, 2011 11:55 am

I've just been re-examining the adjective - adverb confusion area, after hearing "He got back safe" on a TV programme.

The expression, using a link-like verb (I'll call get back a MWV) with an adjective describing final state, seems more logical to me than he got back safely, as it's surely the final state that is being commented upon - if it were the return journey, a little more detail than He got back safely would be preferable.

However, "returned safely" has many more GHits than "returned safe", which I think shows how usage trumps logic.
Though I must add that it worries me that "returned safe and sound" registers more GHits than a sub-string "returned safe".
(Double quotes as in entries for Google search.)

The second Google hit for "get back safe" contains:

...So ride safe and get back safe...

where I'm convinced the first modifier has to be an adverb and thus should be safely.

Ride drunk and don't get back safe

where the modifier describes the state of the (hypothetical) rider and thus is an adjective does work.
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