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The Independent on Sunday remarked recently that “The more fertile Silicon Wadi has become, the more money it has attracted, generating still more start-ups, still more Shekels”.

Through its use in computer chips, silicon underpins our civilisation to the extent that the word has become a metaphor for information technology. And all over the world, it seems, local entrepreneurs are trying to emulate the place where computer chips were made practical and from where so many high-tech innovations have come: Silicon Valley. This area south of San Francisco is the model for (and the envy of) anyone trying to create a home-grown computer industry. As soon as people manage to set up a centre of excellence somewhere, it seems that either they or the local press at once invent a witty name that contains the word silicon. It gives a high-tech identity to an area that hasn’t previously had one, and it projects a cutting-edge image that attracts companies, venture funding and engineers.

There are now so many such places around the world jumping on this siliconisation bandwagon that Keith Dawson, who publishes an e-newsletter called Tasty Bits from the Technology Front, has coined the name Siliconia for them. He has collected more than 50 examples, ranging from the Silicon Wadi of Israel and Silicon Alley in New York (a play on Tin Pan Alley), through Silicon Island, which has been applied to least five places around the world (one of them Taiwan), Silicon Plateau, for Bangalore in India, and Silicon Polder, for the high-tech companies of the Netherlands as a whole.

Britain has three: Silicon Glen in Scotland, roughly the area between Edinburgh and Glasgow; Silicon Fen, the science park and surrounding area at Cambridge, which indeed is on the edge of the fens of East Anglia; and Cwm Silicon around Newport in South Wales (cwm being Welsh for valley, which is pronounced /kuːm/ Help with IPA). Ireland has its Silicon Bog (hardly a PR dream name, I would have said, but never mind).

There are signs the fashion for Siliconia is waning, with several recent examples choosing names based on other technical-sounding prefixes, such as techno- or cyber-. Not altogether an improvement, you may feel.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 18 Dec. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/topicalwords/tw-sil1.htm
Last modified: 18 December 1999.