When, and from where, did "space", as a synonym for industry, sector, or business segment, enter the language? For example, one wouldn't expect to read "His family made a fortune in the buggy whip space", but sentences such as "Is this a game-changer, in a negative way, for other IPOs in the social media space?" are common.

UPDATE: Thanks for answers so far. I don't believe any of them answer the question as to the etymological derivation and date of entry into the language of this meaning of the term.

  • The first occurences of that use of the word 'space' are raised in 1920 ('The capital's evolution' by Jack Russel) when the Liberalism theory has included as a fourth dimension of humanity the economic dimension! – Elberich Schneider Aug 16 '12 at 21:14
  • @XavierVidalHernández: Why is that so surprising? – J.R. Aug 17 '12 at 0:38
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    @Xavier If you are so sure of your answer, you should post it as one instead of leaving it in the comments. Don't forget to cite your sources! – Kit Z. Fox Aug 17 '12 at 12:36
  • I suspect the word 'cybespace' has something to do with it. It went rapidly downhill from there. – Sam Jun 4 '15 at 12:35

Though Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) doesn't include that definition in its entry for space, people have used the term to mean "market sector" since at least the late 1990s. A Google Books search for "consumer electronics space" finds two examples from that period.

From Brandweek, volume 39 (1998):

Being No. 1 in the traditional computer space, we're pretty much there, but it's not enough, because we have to be No. 1 in the redefined consumer electronics space.

From Stereophile, volume 22 (1999):

Both Tweeter and Outpost.com are intent on entering the Internet consumer electronics space with full authorization from the manufacturers.

Such usage has proliferated in the past 15 years, embracing unexpected (and sometimes disturbing) areas of commerce. From The Knot Inc. [press release] (June 28, 2011):

Since launching in 1996, XO Group Inc. has gained dominant market share in the wedding space with the top two wedding websites, TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com, and launched the #1 website for newlyweds, TheNest.com, and the fastest-growing website devoted to pregnancy and first-time parents, TheBump.com.

As for the origin of the term, I speculate that it may have derived from a combination of influences—including "niche" understood as a recessed space; "sector" visualized as a pie wedge in two-dimensional space; and perhaps the idea of "shelf-space" in a metaphorical market. Another potential influence is the notion of "space" as a region of activity or investigation, as in this example from Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology, volume 31 (1994):

What he finds interesting about working in the "computer space" is that it is a world free of such physical constraints as gravity, material resistance, and time.


The use of "space" seems to arise in the context of the so-called "New Economy" (or at least the belief in one).

The original "New Economy" was in the "Roaring (19)20s, which helps explain XaVier's comment of about "first use" around 1920.

But the main use of "space" in this context was during the tech boom of the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries.

This idea was best expressed by Buzz Lightyear" "To infinity and beyond" (in advance of the "new economy.") The turn of the century tech gurus were otherwise known as "rocket scientists."

  • Do you mean, "To infinity . . . and beyond!"? – bib Aug 17 '12 at 12:16
  • @bib: Yes, fixed. – Tom Au Aug 17 '12 at 12:57

I don't know the history of the word however, it's meaning in this context is about a rough grouping of something. This could be an economic group or a lot of other things. Since it's meaning is much broader than industry, it's not exactly a synonym. It implies other aspects, not merely industry.

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