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I'm trying to trace the origins and rise in popularity of the abbreviation "tech" from "technology." From what I can tell, the term began taking off in popular culture around the early to mid-1980s, but I'm wondering where it started to appear first and how and why it became so ubiquitous from then to now. Any help appreciated.

I've consulted Tom Chatfield's book "Netymology," which traces the origins of many tech-related terms, but doesn't include "tech" specifically. I can see from this Collins Dictionary usage graph that the word "tech" started to rise in popularity in the early to mid-1980s. Google's Ngram Viewer also seems to confirm this timeline. I've also consulted some articles in the NYTs and New Yorker by Steve Lohr and Ben Yagoda about the origins and rise of popular technology-related phrases and words, but they focused on tracing words like "hacker" and "Big Data." I'm specifically interested in why, how, and where "tech" began to rise, in the context of being related to the Internet, software, hardware, etc. It's been suggested that it might have come out of science fiction circles around the 1960s/70s, but I'm trying to run this down.

What I'm really driving at is: I can tell with some clarity from Google's Ngram and date-restricted searches when "tech" as an abbreviation for technology began its rise, but I can't tell the how, where, or why of that rise. I'm new to etymological research so was wondering if any of you could point me in the right direction as far as the right tools to use to figure these questions out.

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    What research have you done? We expect you to do your own research and report what you find in your question so we don't all repeat your research. Case Western's college rag was called Case Tech in 1903. Cal Tech may have beat them to it, but some of the references are a bit ambiguous.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 21:47
  • Tech has a lot of different meanings. The OED says for a Technical College etc is the oldest, late 19th century. But that's maybe not the same as tech for technology?
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 21:58
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    MIT wins. The Tech was founded in 1881.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 22:28
  • When I was growing up "tech" usually meant "technical school/college", though it might mean "technician". I was aware of the expression "hi-tech" before I was aware of the use of "tech" to mean just "technology".
    – Peter
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 4:26

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Tech Toons cartoon - Colorado Transcript newspaper, July 23, 1967

enter image description here

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  • Thanks Phil and Stuart. Phil - I've consulted Tom Chatfield's book "Netymology," which traces the origins of many tech-related terms, but doesn't include "tech" specifically. I can see from this Collins graph that the word "tech" started to rise in popularity in the early to mid-1980s. Thanks for the cartoon - it's interesting to see the word in that context as early as the 60s. I've also consulted some articles in the NYTs and New Yorker by Steve Lohr and Ben Yagoda, but they focused on tracing words like "hacker" and "Big Data." I'm specifically interested in why/how "tech" began to rise. Commented May 10, 2022 at 1:08
  • See also en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramblin'_Wreck_from_Georgia_Tech The song forst appeared in print in 1908.
    – Xanne
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 2:28
  • Why would this be closed, except for some rigidity about doing research? It was asked only 5 hours ago.
    – Xanne
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 2:30
  • In this cartoon "tech" would be short for "technician" rather than "technology".
    – Peter
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 4:27
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I'll answer the question in two ways: first, when did the abbreviation Tech emerge related to technological institutes like Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Texas Tech; when did tech emerge as a common noun abbreviation of technology?

Proper Noun Abbreviation of Tech in University Names

The abbreviation of proper nouns with Technology in their title may serve as a precursor for abbreviating tech generally. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the proper abbreviation back to 1881, when The Tech was the title of MIT's (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) newspaper. By 1908, Georgia Tech's yearbook the Blueprint usually prints the school name as the Georgia School of Technology (today it's the Georgia Institute of Technology) but also uses Tech or the Tech several times to describe the school, e.g.:

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now nearing that institution of learning commonly known as Tech. (p. 161)

This usage continued throughout the 20th century to refer to many different schools.

Common Noun Abbreviation of Tech as Technology

First, it is worth noting that through the 20th century tech also abbreviated other terms: technician (from 1953) or technical (1942), for instance. But we are interested in usages that specifically mean technology. The Oxford English Dictionary traces this usage back to 1982, in a header for the Times, 6 May:

Whitehall backs new tech firms.

But searches indicate the abbreviation may have been used before this. For instance, a January 1971 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine (via JSTOR) has a review of Lawrence Halprin's book The RSVP Cycles - Creative Processes in the Human Environment that mentions "high-tech":

If in our high-tech society, books are able to retain their function as change agents, The RSVP Cycles will claim attention.

Then the February 1973 issue of The Realist (JSTOR) includes an anecdote that invokes the "high tech of guns" white settlers brought to indigenous peoples as an aid in hunting (an inaccurate trope, as indigenous tribes already knew how to hunt, but here it is):

When I threatened famines, she reassured us that mankind's inventiveness had always saved him from hunger in the past - as when white settlers came to America with the high tech of guns and showed the starving Indians how to hunt.

So there is evidence that tech referring to technology was being used in the 1970s, so it wasn't coming from nowhere when tech firms rose up in the 1980s.

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I've attached the cover page from the September 1956 edition of Popular Electronics. It shows the usage of the word "tech".

enter image description here

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    Do you have some evidence that this is the origin of the term? Commented Feb 15 at 17:01
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    No, but it does show that the term was popular with electronic enthusiasts in the 50's.
    – Steven
    Commented Feb 15 at 17:03
  • What does the article itself say? I'd like to be sure they really meant "technology" and not "technical" or "technician" or some other "tech". (The OED does say those other two were in use in the 50s.)
    – Laurel
    Commented Feb 15 at 17:17

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