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What is a Mortimer?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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A mortimer is a person who you may not want to meet on the Internet, particularly if you’re a newbie. The name derives from a ventriloquist doll or dummy called Mortimer Snerd that was given fame by ventriloquist and voice artist, Edgar John Bergren. Bergren’s character was the opposite of how a mortimer would be defined today, since he was not very intelligent. The character was also briefly featured in a 1939 comic strip written and drawn by Bergren, and called Mortimer & Charlie.

The key connection between the ventriloquist’s dummy and the modern definition is that both talk way too much. Yet the modern type is intelligent, just not a great communicator. The dummy’s last name “snerd” referred to the joining of the words snooty and nerd. Today that translates to a person who is really “up” on “in the know” on technical terms, but looks down on any person who is not.

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In the modern context, as relates to the Internet, the term gained popularity among fans and contributors to the Internet, radio, and television broadcast called NetTalkLive!. A person labeled a mortimer would talk incessantly in geek speak, tech speak or nerdic, or would not “dumb down” his language to those less technically inclined. In fact he or she would use such language as something of a secret code, only able to be decoded by other technically inclined folks. To be a mortimer is an undesirable thing, since you are only playing to an audience that already knows what you’re talking about.

The snooty part comes in because such language deliberately discriminates against people trying to understand new technological developments. Even the term “newbie” has some mortimer-like connotations, and some people have little patience with new users to the Internet, especially if they ask questions that can be found with a little looking. For instance, you should read frequently asked questions (FAQs) carefully when you join any type of Internet group to be certain that your question hasn’t already been asked and answered. Asking a question that is answered on a FAQ is likely to evoke unpleasant comments from mortimers.

Fortunately, the world is not composed solely of mortimer types. If it were, new Internet users or those just interested in a variety of gadgets or new technologies would never understand anything, since no one would answer their questions. Instead, plenty of helpful folk who lend a hand to people new to a technology and break down complex terms, acronyms, or abbreviations into actual people speak, given us all a fair chance to understand them.

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