Tuesday, December 30, 2008


A friend writes, “so here's one for you: hybrid. It seems to be a new buzzword and it's already driving me crazy. I saw a poster today for hybrid luggage. WTF is hybrid luggage? Does it pack itself?”

Well, no, but ‘hybrid’ has certainly entered the mainstream lexicon in a clumsy way that could lead to plenty of confusion. Like many buzzwords, it has emerged from specific fields of study only to be applied willy-nilly to all sorts of unrelated subjects.

In particular, its current popularity stems from so-called hybrid automobiles, which are even being marketed simply as ‘hybrids.’ However, it’s not really the vehicles that exhibit hybrid characteristics; it’s their engines.

In its primary biological sense, ‘hybrid’—as either a noun or an adjective—refers to the product of different animal or plant species or varieties. Similarly, a vehicle’s hybrid engine could be considered the ‘offspring’ of two different power sources, most commonly (a) an internal combustion engine that uses gasoline and (b) an electrical motor that uses a rechargeable battery.

In linguistics, meanwhile, a hybrid is a word formed by combining bits of different languages. One of the most common examples in English—by utter coincidence—is ‘automobile,’ combining the Greek ‘auto’ (‘self’) with the Latin ‘mobilis’ (movable).

More broadly, it is feasible to use ‘hybrid’ to describe anything composed of mixed, heterogeneous or incongruous elements.

In the case of hybrid luggage, the concept is to combine the benefits of soft- and hard-side luggage. Yes, that’s all; does it even count? It’s certainly not shockingly incongruous, particularly when compared to the combinations of technologies in hybrid engines that have led to truly noteworthy fuel savings—but perhaps the suitcase manufacturers are hoping to go along for the ride.

They aren’t the only ones. On December 29, 2008, a press launch of a notebook computer claimed it offered ‘hybrid storage’ simply because it combined a hard drive and a solid-state drive (which are not exactly incongruous).

Unfortunately, ‘hybrid’ is one word that may have only just begun to buzz ....

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