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List of computer term etymologies
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List of computer term etymologies

This is a list of the origins of computer-related terms. It relates to both computer hardware and computer software.

Names of many computer terms, especially computer applications, often relate to the function they perform, e.g., compiler is an application that compiles programming language code into the computer's machine language. There are other terms however whose history would indicate that it had less to do with the functionality, and hence are of etymological value. This article lists such terms.

For a list of the origins of names of computer companies see List of company name etymologies. For a complete list of etymological topics see Lists of etymologies

Originally this name was chosen by an author just because it was a catchy name. Soon enough, it was suggested that the name was indeed appropriate, because its founders got started by applying patcheses to code written for NCSA's httpd daemon. The result was 'A PAtCHy' server.

The term is often (but erroneously) credited to Grace Hopper. In 1946, she joined the Harvard Faculty at the Computation Laboratory where she traced an error in the Mark II to a moth trapped in a relay. This bug was carefully removed and taped to the log book. (See picture).

However, use of the word "bug" to describe defects in mechanical systems dates back to at least the 1870s. Thomas Edison, for one, used the term in his notebooks.

C++ creator Bjarne Stroustrup called his new language "C with Classes" and then "new C". Because of which the original C began to be called "old C" which was considered insulting to the C community. At this time Rick Mascitti suggested the name C++ as a successor to C. In C the '++' operator increments the value of the variable it is appended to, thus C++ would increment the value of C.

The term was coined by web browser programmer Lou Montulli after the term "magic cookies" used by Unix programmers.

According to the original team that introduced the concept, "the use of the word daemon was inspired by the Maxwell's daemon of physics and thermodynamics (an imaginary agent which helped sort molecules of different speeds and worked tirelessly in the background)" [1]. The earliest use appears to have been in the phrase "daemon of Socrates," which meant his "guiding or indwelling spirit; his genius," also a pre-Christian equivalent of the "Guardian Angel," or, alternatively, a demigod (bearing only an etymological connection to the word "demon"). Marshall Kirk McKusick's drawing of a friendly imp (i.e. the BSD mascot) may be viewed as a witty representation of the concept. Thus, a daemon is something that works magically without anyone being much aware of it.

Les Earnest wrote the finger program in 1971 to solve the need of users who wanted information on other users of the network. Prior to the finger program, the only way to get this information was with a who program that showed IDs and terminal line numbers for logged-in users, and people used to run their fingers down the "who" list. Earnest named his program after this concept.

Gnu is also a species of African antelope. Founder of the GNU project Richard Stallman liked the name because of the humour associated with its pronunciation and was also influenced by the children's song The Gnu Song [1] which is a song sung by a gnu. Also it fitted into the recursive acronym culture with "GNU\'s Not Unix".

The name started as a jokey boast about the amount of information the search-engine would be able to search. It was originally named 'Googol', a word for the number represented by 1 followed by 100 zeros. The word was originally invented by Milton Sirotta, nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner in 1938 during a discussion of large numbers and exponential notation. After the founders, Stanford grad students Sergey Brin and Larry Page, presented their project to an investor, they received a cheque made out to 'Google' !

The source of the name is claimed to be three-fold: first, that it "goes-fer" information; second, that it does so through a web of menu items analogous to gopher holes; and third, that the mascot of the University of Minnesota is the Golden Gophers.

The name comes from a command in the Unix text editor ed that takes the form g/re/p meaning search globally for a regular expression and print lines where instances are found. "Grep" like "Google" is often used as a verb, meaning "to search".

Founder Jack Smith got the idea of accessing e-mail via the web from a computer anywhere in the world. When Sabeer Bhatia came up with the business plan for the mail service, he tried all kinds of names ending in 'mail' and finally settled for hotmail as it included the letters "html" - the markup language used to write web pages. It was initially referred to as HoTMaiL with selective upper casing.

"18" is for the number of letters between the i and the n. The term l10n (for localization) has failed to catch on to the same degree, but is used by some.

ICQ is not an acronym. It is a play on the phrase "I seek you".

Jakarta was the name of the conference room at Sun where most of the meetings between SUN and Apache took place. It is certainly accidental (and a shocking coincidence) that Jakarta is a large city on the island of Java.

Linux creator Linus Torvalds originally used the Minix operating system on his computer, didn't like it, liked MS-DOS less, and started a project to develop a better operating system than either. Hence the working name was Linux (Linus' Minix). He thought the name to be too egotistical and planned to name it Freax (free + freak + x). His friend Ari Lemmke encouraged Linus to upload it to a network so it could be easily downloaded. Ari gave Linus a directory called linux on his FTP server, as he did not like the name Freax.

Lotus founder Mitch Kapor got the name for his company from 'The Lotus Position' or 'Padmasana'. Kapor used to be a teacher of Transcendental Meditation technique as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

from McIntosh, a popular type of apple. Jef Raskin, a computer scientist, is credited with this naming.

Coined by Donald Michie in his 1968 paper Memo Functions and Machine Learning.

When Marc Andreesen, founder of Netscape, created a browser to replace the Mosaic browser, it was internally named Mozilla (Mosaic-Killer, Godzilla). When the Navigator source code was made open source, the internal name was for the open source version.

Earlier spelling of the term is "Nurd" and the original spelling is "Knurd", but the pronunciation has remained the same. The term originated at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the late 1940's. Students who partied, and rarely studied were called "Drunks", while the opposite - students who never partied and always studied were "Knurd" ("Drunk" spelled backwards). The term was also (independently) used in a Dr. Seuss book, and on the TV show Happy Days, giving it national popularity.

Novell, Inc. was originally Novell Data Systems co-founded by George Canova. The name was suggested by George's wife who mistakenly thought that "Novell" meant "new" in French.

Larry Ellison, Ed Oates and Bob Miner were working on a consulting project for the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). The code name for the project was called Oracle (the CIA saw this as the system to give answers to all questions or some such). The project was designed to use the newly written SQL database language from IBM. The project eventually was terminated but they decided to finish what they started and bring it to the world. They kept the name Oracle and created the RDBMS engine.

The term comes from paku paku which is a Japanese slang to describe the opening and closing of the mouth. The game was released in Japan with the name Puck-Man, and released in the US with the name Pac-Man, fearing that kids may deface a Puck-Man cabinet by changing the P to an F.

The fifth microprocessor in the 80x86 series. It would have been called i586 or 80586, but Intel decided to name it Pentium (penta = five) after it lost a trademark infringement lawsuit against AMD. (The judgment was that numbers like "286," "386," and "486" could not be trademarked.) According to Intel, Pentium conveys a meaning of strength "like titanium".

Perl was originally named Pearl, after the "pearl of great price" of Matthew 13:46. Larry Wall, the creator of Perl, wanted to give the language a short name with positive connotations and claims to have looked at (and rejected) every three- and four-letter word in the dictionary. He even thought of naming it after his wife Gloria. Before the language's official release Wall discovered that there was already a programming language named Pearl, and changed the spelling of the name. Although the original manuals suggested the backronyms "Practical Extraction and Report Language" and "Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister", these were intended humorously.

Acronym for "Program for Internet News & Email". It is also a self-referential acronym for "Pine Is Not Elm" (in reference to Elm, another email client)

The author of ping, Mike Muuss, named it after the pulses of sound made by a sonar called a "ping". Later Dave Mills provided an expansion for ping as "Packet Internet Grouper".

Company founder Marc Ewing was given the Cornell lacrosse team cap (with red and white stripes) while at college by his grandfather. People would turn to him to solve their problems, and he was referred to as "that guy in the red hat". He lost the cap and had to search for it desperately. The manual of the beta version of Red Hat Linux had an appeal to readers to return his Red Hat if found by anyone!

Based on the surnames of the authors of this algorithm -- Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Len Adleman.

The company was called "Santa Cruz Operation", as its office was in Santa Cruz, California.

While registering the domain, Slashdot-creator Rob Malda wanted to make the URL silly, and unpronounceable ("http://slashdot.org" gets pronounced as "h t t p colon slash slash slash dot dot org")

The term spam is derived from the Monty Python SPAM sketch, set in a cafe where everything on the menu includes SPAM luncheon meat. While a customer plaintively asks for some kind of food without SPAM in it, the server reiterates the SPAM-filled menu. Soon, a chorus of Vikings join in with a song: "SPAM, SPAM, wonderful SPAM, glorious SPAM," over and over again, drowning out all conversation. (Hormel Food's position on the use of the term is at http://www.spam.com/ci/ci_in.htm )

Swing was the code-name of the project that developed the new graphic components (the successor of AWT). It was named after swing, a style of dance band jazz that was popularized in the 1930s and unexpectly revived in the 1990s. Although an unofficial name for the components, it gained popular acceptance with the use of the word in the package names for the Swing API, which begin with javax.swing.

Tomcat was the code-name for the JSDK 2.1 project inside Sun. Tomcat started off as a servlet specification implementation by James Duncan Davidson who was a software architect at Sun. Davidson had initially hoped that the project would be made open-source, and since most open-source projects had O'Reilly books on them with an animal on the cover, he wanted to name the project after an animal. He came up with Tomcat since he reasoned the animal represented something that could take care of and fend for itself.

Troff stands for "typesetter roff", although many people have speculated that it actually means "Times roff" because of the use of the Times font family in troff by default. Troff has its origins from Roff, an earlier formatting program, whose name is a contraction of "run off".

The term is derived from the classical myth of the Trojan Horse. Analogously, a Trojan horse appears innocuous (or even to be a gift), but in fact is a vehicle for bypassing security.

When Bell Labs pulled out of MULTICS (MULTiplexed Information and Computing System), which was originally a joint Bell Labs/GE/MIT project, Ken Thompson of Bell Labs, soon joined by Dennis Ritchie, wrote a simpler version of the operating system. They needed the OS to run the game Space War which had been compiled under MULTICS. The new OS was called UNICS - UNIplexed operating and Computing System by Brian Kernighan. An alternative spelling was Eunuchs, it being a sort of 'reduced' MULTICS. It was later shortened to Unix.

The term virus was first used in print by Fred Cohen in his 1984 paper "Experiments with Computer Viruses", where he credits Len Adleman with coining it. Although Cohen's use of virus may have been the first academic use, it had been in the common parlance long before that. A mid-1970s science fiction novel by David Gerrold, When H.A.R.L.I.E. was One, includes a description of a fictional computer program called VIRUS that worked just like a virus (and was countered by a program called ANTIBODY). The term "computer virus" also appears in the comic book "Uncanny X-Men" No. 158, published in 1982.

Coined by Ward Cunningham, the creator of the wiki concept, who named them for the "wiki wiki" or "quick" shuttle buses at Honolulu Airport. Wiki wiki was the first Hawai'ian term he learned on his first visit to the islands. The airport counter agent directed him to take the wiki wiki bus between terminals.

The name 'worm' was taken from a 1970's science fiction novel by John Brunner entitled The Shockwave Rider. The book describes programs known as "tapeworms" which spread through a network for the purpose of deleting data. Researchers writing an early paper on experiments in distributed computing noted the similarities between their software and the program described by Brunner, and adopted that name.

X derives its name as a successor to a pre-1983 window system called W (the W Window System). X follows W in the alphabet.

It is an acronym for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle". The word "Yahoo" was originally invented by Jonathan Swift and used in his book Gulliver's Travels. It represents a person who is repulsive in appearance and action and is barely human. Yahoo! founders Jerry Yang and David Filo selected the name because they considered themselves yahoos.