Why are consumer electronics names so confusing?

The thing above is a receiver. It’s used to receive satellite signals on DIRECTV systems. You may have one in your home right now. On the other hand, this is a receiver too:

And I could show you other pictures that look nothing like either of those. Each would have its own use. You can use a satellite receiver for satellite TV, an auto receiver for cars, an A/V receiver for your home theater, and I’m not sure what these guys are supposed to do (as I write this, the Lions are 9-5)

“Receiver” is one of those words that has many uses. Another is “Amplifier,” and to make things worse, this is both a receiver and an amplifier!

Terms like these make it hard to agree on what we’re all talking about, yet they keep multiplying. A receiver is just something that gets a signal and honestly pretty much everything gets a signal. An amplifier increases signal levels on anything, big or small. And don’t get me started on what a “computer” is — how is it that my washing machine isn’t a computer but it has more computing power than the “computer” I had ten years ago?

“Remote” can be a noun or an adjective. Where’s the remote control? It’s an RF model so it can control stuff from the other room, in other words, remotely. Who makes this stuff up?

For decades, a “phone” was a thing wired to the wall but it was also the 7.5mm plug that operators used on switchboards. Now, well, honestly it isn’t either of those things. A “cell” used to be where you went if you were arrested, now it’s the thing you smuggle in so you can try to get out.

I could go on and on.

Our technical world is littered with words that have little or no use, and either refer to too many things or are so specific that they’re unusable. There are too many initials (all I’m saying is, IPS is something very different from IBS.) Probably the worst offender is the company legally known as DISH, which includes in their product line something called a “dish” (but also called an “antenna” even though an “antenna” generally refers to something to get signals from nearby) and to make matters worse their competitor, DIRECTV, also sells something called a “dish.”) And neither of these have anything to do with:

Dorothy Gish, what a dish.

Word order matters, too. A cable amplifier is different from an amplifier cable; a DISH remote is different from a remote dish. It’s pretty amazing that any search engine in the world gets this stuff right, normal humans can’t even seem to do it.

That’s why I write this blog. I want to explain stuff. It isn’t always easy, it’s almost always fun, and I try to make it as simple as I can. But I have to admit, sometimes the words work against me.

I’m just glad I can write this blog on a computer (not a washing machine), although now that I have a headache, I guess I’ll have to take a tablet.

Oh boy.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.