Hey Newt, it’s called a ‘smartphone’

FORTUNE — Hey, remember the ’90s? That was when Newt Gingrich (like Al Gore) was considered to be one of the few tech-savvy politicians we had. He ran around the country quoting Alvin Toffler and talking about how technology was leveling the playing field and how the “information superhighway” was going to create all kinds of new opportunities. There were many people (especially in Silicon Valley) who revered both Newt and Al despite their divergent politics, simply because of their shared embrace of technology and the fact that they apparently knew their stuff.

How far has Newt fallen. On Friday, he posted a rather astonishing video titled “We’re Really Puzzled” detailing — for nearly 3 minutes — the trouble he and his staff were having in coming up with a name for these newfangled phone thingamajigs that do so much more than just make calls. You know: smartphones. Smartphones show videos, he noted. Smartphones take pictures. Smartphones enable Web surfing. Smartphones have store-locator apps. “We spent weeks trying to figure out what to call this,” he said, holding up his smartphone.

The one term that didn’t seem to occur to Newt and his staff over those weeks was “smartphone.”


“I’ve been calling it a handheld computer,” he said, before explaining why that term doesn’t measure up (because smartphones are more about networking and communication than they are about performing computations — which naturally raises the question of what he calls his PC.)

Gingrich asked his viewers to help Gingrich Productions come up with the right term. Some of the commenters on YouTube have suggested “smartphone.” Some others had different ideas, such as “Smart Phone” or “smart phone.” Many others simply expressed their shock that this video was made at all, while others made snarky remarks or expressed relief that Gingich didn’t win the Republican nomination for president last year.

The term “smartphone” dates at least as far back as 1997 — right around the time Gingich was being most loudly hailed as a tech visionary — when Ericcson introduced its GS 88 Penelope. The iPhone, which marks the beginning of the current wave of smartphones, was introduced six years ago next month.

Perhaps the most jarring thing about the video is how much Gingrich sounded like a somewhat tired version of his old self. He dropped phrases like “dramatic revolution” and “dramatic change” in describing the effects these incredible “new” devices “will have” on society and government. And just like back in the ’90s, he compared new technologies to the fusty, old ones they were replacing. When the automobile was invented, it was called a “horseless carriage, he noted. “It took a little while to come up with a new name for it.”

Update: Gingrich is defending himself on Twitter. He, or whomever runs his Twitter account, linked to a picture of Michael Douglas portraying Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street.  Douglas is holding a ridiculously huge (but then-cutting-edge) cellphone and the caption reads: “Your mobile device is not just a smarter one of these.” Which, fair enough, perhaps. Except that the term “smartphone” is pretty much universally used to apply to the device Gingrich was holding up in the video. But he never once used that term, even if only to argue against its use, as he did with “cellphone” and “handheld computer.” That, in fact, is what makes the video so bizarre. If it were an argument that we shouldn’t use the word “smartphone,” nobody would be making fun of the video. Or if they did make fun, it would be because the battle has already been won: it was decided years ago that “smartphone” is the term, and everybody knows what it means.

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