Internet, Web, and Other E-Issues

Q. Here’s an Internet term I can’t find in Merriam-Webster: “popup” (or pop up, or pop-up), as in those annoying ads you get on many web pages. Is it one word, hyphenated, or with a space? (“Pop-up” is in MW, but as a baseball term for “pop fly,” ca. 1906—hardly up-to-date for the web!)

A. Sometimes, old words do new duty. There’s nothing really special about a pop-up ad (other than, perhaps, the fact that it constitutes a novel way to annoy people). It simply pops up in front of other active windows on a computer screen. This may not be exactly what a pop fly (a “pop-up”) does—on a computer screen, the idea of layers is only metaphorical—but the idea is similar. American Heritage (4th ed., 2000), by the way, s.v. “pop-up,” includes the adjective meaning “rising to form a three-dimensional structure when a page is opened: pop-up illustrations in a children’s book. ” We hope that pop-up ads will go away before the dictionaries get around to including them in an example. [Update: Webster’s now includes an additional sense in its definition of “pop-up” (n.): “a pop-up window on a computer screen.”] [Update: Merriam-Webster and American Heritage now both include the computer-related sense of “pop-up.”]