The first year of the new millennium was not characterized by system failures, brown-outs and cash-starved consumers looting stores, as the Y2K-phobes predicted. Instead, those in financial technology circles could reasonably dub 2000 The Year of The Hyphen.

It has after all been the year of B-to-B versus B-to-C, not to mention B-to-E and B-to-A; the year of P-to-P and some P-to-B; plus m- this, t-that and e-everything else.

The hyphen is an appropriately humble image to characterize how little fuss was involved in spanning the breach from one millennium to another and a fine symbol of our increasingly connected times in the Internet Economy.

Small, but overwhelming, the hyphen is like a semantic cell spawning in Internet time expressions whose meanings you'll never keep up with. This struck me recently when talking with the chief technology officer of Identrus LLC, the global bank network for B-to-B ecommerce, which, he told me, will ultimately be also for "B-to-C, B-to-E and B-to-A." To you and me, that's consumers, employees and authorities (the government), respectively.

The bursting bubble of consumer portals last spring brought the term "B-to-B" to everyone's lips, but I'm warning you now to keep your ears strained for "B-to-B-to-C"-a phrase used by one of our survey respondents to describe the strategy of a business reaching consumers who are the customers of another business through an online alliance.

Similarly, P-to-P, itself a very new phrase-describing person-to- person payments via email-is already morphing into P-to-B. (No points for guessing that one.)

Wireless technology, which first made its mark on the financial industry this year, added both w-commerce and m-commerce, for mobile commerce, to the jargon lexicon. In Europe today, m-commerce is as standard a phrase as e-commerce (or ecommerce as we say).

Revived hopes for banking by digital or interactive television, meanwhile, have brought us t-commerce.

Already, you can preface anything you like with e- and it will be assumed to be electronic-whatever (the "e-gibberish" movement, as BTN's last editor called it). And it seems the hyphen is headed toward a whole new horizon of possibilities and ambiguities.

Of course, all this is great for us editors who make our living in part by keeping up with the latest lunacies. The only problem it presents is when to drop the hyphen from a phrase: When has it passed that watershed of newness the hyphen represents into general acceptance?

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