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Some Common Computer Terms…and Where They Come From

wiki.JPGThe world of computers has added hundreds of words and terms to the English language, words we use casually every day. When looked at closely, many of these terms—“bug,” “wiki,” “google,” etc.—seem nonsensical. Yet all have perfectly logical, and often very interesting, origins. For example:

Bug – The term is often credited to pioneering computer engineer Grace Hopper who, in 1946, traced a problem in Harvard’s Mark II computer to a moth trapped in a relay, and then actually pasted the fried flier in her log book. (There was a literal “bug in the system.”) However, the term “bug,” meaning a mechanical failure, actually goes all the way back to mid-19th Century Scotland.

Bit – Short for “Binary Digit”—or “Binary Digit”—take your pick—the term was first used in a 1948 paper by the “father of information theory,” Claude Shannon, who himself credited the term to American statistician John Tukey.

Cookie – Meaning a packet of information that travels between a browser and a Web server, the term was reported as being inspired by fortune cookies, which carry information hidden inside them.

Google – Google is the most popular search engine on the planet, so much so that its name has become a verb. (As in, “to google.”) The term “google” was originally “googol,” a term meaning the number “1” followed by 100 zeroes, created by prominent mathematician Edward Kasner. It was meant to represent “a really, really big number,” which is the amount of information Google is supposed to be able access.

Mac – The famous “Mac” computer is an abbreviation for “Macintosh,” a popular apple. Naturally, it’s a produced by Apple, formerly Apple Computer. Apple was named by company founder Steve Jobs who (1) once worked on an apple farm and (2) admired the Beatles’ Apple Records. He and co-founder Steve Wozniak supposedly couldn’t think of a better name, so, in April 1976, settled on Apple for the name of their new computer company.

Nerd – Supposedly the term was coined in the 1940s at the Renssellear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. It was meant to describe the opposite of a party person, a.k.a., a drunk. The opposite of a “drunk” is a “knurd”—pronounced “nerd.”

Pac-Man – The term comes from “paku-paku,” the sound the game’s Japanese creators believe the title character makes as it eats its way through its electronic maze. When the game was first brought to the United States, it was called “Puck-Man”—but was changed when smart-aleck kids started redrawing the name on the table-top consoles to something less socially acceptable. (haha…I didn’t know that.)

Radio Button – So named because they resemble pre-set buttons on old in-dash car radios. When you pushed one button, another pops out, only allowing you to make one selection at a time.

Spam – The term for unwanted email was inspired by a classic comedy routine from the 1970s/1980s British comedy troupe “Monty Python.” This particular skit was set in a restaurant that only served SPAM, the infamous canned “meat product.” When a patron tried to order anything else, the staff would inundate him with a list of alternate selections, all of them being, in one way or another, SPAM, until the poor customer relented.

TWAIN – It’s a language for acquiring information from image scanners that stands for…well…nothing. Because it looks like an acronym, computer geeks finally came up with: “Technology Without an Intelligent Name.”

Wiki – This name for software to which anyone can contribute was coined by its creator, American software designer Ward Cunningham, who named it after the fast and efficient “wiki wiki” shuttles at the Honolulu Airport in Hawaii.

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Tagged with: Articles, Computer Information Science

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