How Tech Words Were Coined
The great thing about tech and language is how they’re both constantly evolving. As a species, we alter the meaning of words to suit us and the times we live in, and we also make up new words when we need to. And as society advances at its rapid rate, this is true of tech words more than any other area of our language.
As tech changes and evolves, so our words for tech alter too. But have you ever stopped to wonder where these words came from or how we got them in the first place? While many tech words like ‘stream’ and ‘router’ have clear origins, some have more interesting and unusual backstories. Here are five tech words and how they were coined.
Software developer for Intel Jim Kardach liked stories of myths and legends – or at least we’ll assume he did. In 1997 he was tasked with pitching a name for a new single wireless standard being developed between Intel, Nokia, IBM and Ericsson. Jim knew the story of a 10th century king who successfully united all of Scandinavia. He was called Bluetooth because he had one horribly old bad tooth that was so rotten, it appeared to be blue. Obviously, it was his ability at uniting entities and not his rotten tooth that inspired Jim to pitch the name. It didn’t go down very well, but in the absence of any other good suggestions Bluetooth launched under the name of that rotten-toothed king.
If you’ve ever thought of a computer bug as an actual annoying insect, you’re more on the money than you might have realised. Grace Hopper was a pioneer of computer programming and in 1947 she was working on the Harvard Mark II computer. When a pesky moth got stuck in there, work had to stop until they could get it out. Grace said they had to wait until they had ‘debugged’ the system, and the term stuck and went on to be used to describe computer glitches. The actual moth Grace found that day is on display in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.
The term ‘cookies’ in tech is one of the most delicious, but less obvious words when it comes to its origin – cookies are sweet treats, so it’s hard to see how that relates. But early programmers needed a word for the functionality that contained certain information. They considered that just like a fortune cookie came with an embedded message, so an internet cookie would come with an embedded message too. So the ‘cookie’ in tech actually derived from a fortune cookie, not a sweet biscuit.
We’ll have to assume that everyone knows Monty Python and their crazy skit show. If you don’t, go and watch some Monty Python right now! Once you do, the word ‘spam’ will make more sense. In one famous Monty Python sketch a restaurant serves every dish with Spam, the tinned ham. For some bizarre reason a group of Vikings in the restaurant then start singing a Spam song, which just goes “Spam, Spam, Spam Spam…”. In the very early internet chatrooms, users began to see messages repeated, either from businesses trying to sell their wares, or from other users wanting to be annoying. So chatroom users were soon calling these messages ‘spam’ because of the annoying repetition, which led to annoying emails being known as spam.
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