List of computer term etymologies

List of computer term etymologies

This is a list of the origins of computer-related terms or terms used in the computing world (i.e., a list of computer term etymologies). 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., a compiler is an application that "compiles" (programming language source 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.


* ABEND — this term is short for abnormal end, and refers to a program stopping prematurely due to a bug. It is more commonly associated with mainframe programs, as this is its origin. Another purported origin of the term is that ABEND is called "abend" because it is what system operators do to the computer late on Friday when they want to call it a day, and hence is from the German word "Abend" meaning "Evening". This is untrue.

* Ada programming language — named after Ada Lovelace, who is considered by many to be the first programmer.

* Apache — the web server from the Apache Software Foundation.: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 patches to code written for NCSA's httpd daemon. The result was "a patchy" server.

* awk — a computer pattern/action language, name made up of the surnames of its authors Alfred V. Aho, Peter J. Weinberger, and Brian W. Kernighan


* B programming language — B was created by Ken Thompson as a revision of the BCPL programming language.

* biff — a command to turn on asynchronous email notification on Unix systems. Actually named after a dog at U.C. Berkeley, who would bark when mail was delivered. (The dog belonged to Heidi Stettner, validation of this from Eric Cooper.)

* bitClaude E. Shannon first used the word "bit" in a 1948 paper. Shannon's "bit" is a portmanteau word for binary digit (or possibly binary digit). He attributed its origin to John W. Tukey. See [] .

* Bon programming language — Bon was created by Ken Thompson and named after his wife Bonnie. However according to an encyclopedia quotation in Bon's manual, it was named after a religion (likely Tibetan) whose rituals involve the murmuring of magic formulas. []

* booting or bootstrapping — The term "booting" or "bootstrapping" a computer was inspired by the story of the Baron Munchhausen where he pulls himself out of a swamp by the straps on his boots.

* Bug — a fault in a computer program which prevents it from working correctly.: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 Harvard Mark II to a moth trapped in a relay. This bug was carefully removed and taped to the log book. (See ).

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

* byte — the term was coined by Werner Buchholz in 1956 during the early design phase for the IBM Stretch computer. It was coined by mutating the word "bite" so it would not be accidentally misspelled as bit. A byte is a small grouping of bits.


* C programming languageDennis Ritchie improved on the B programming language and called it "New B". He later called it "C". (See also D).

* C++ — an object-oriented programming language and a successor to the C programming language.: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".

* Cookie — A packet of information that travels between a browser and the web server.: The term was coined by web browser programmer Lou Montulli after the term "magic cookies" used by Unix programmers.


* D -- Walter Bright designed D as an improved C, avoiding many of the design problems of C (eg, extensive pointer manipulation, unenforced array boundaries, ...).

* Daemon — a process in an operating system that runs in the background.

: It is falsely considered an acronym for Disk And Execution MONitor. 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 with differing velocities and worked tirelessly in the background)" thus evading the Laws of Thermodynamics. [] . 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 (who bears only an etymological connection to the word "demon"). The term was embraced, and possibly popularized, by the Unix operating systems which supported multiple background processes: various local (and later Internet) services were provided by daemons. This is exemplified by the BSD mascot, John Lasseter's drawing of a friendly imp (copyright Marshall Kirk McKusick). Thus, a daemon is something that works magically without anyone being much aware of it. Note that an alternative spelling is 'daemon', which is sometimes slightly differentiated in purpose from 'demon'.

* Debian — a Linux distribution, a portmanteau of project creator Ian Murdock's name and that of his girlfriend (now wife) Debra.

* Emacs — a text editor, acronym for Editor MACroS

* fingerUnix command that provides information about users logged into a system:Les Earnest wrote the finger program in 1971 to solve provide users who wanted information about other users on a network or system. 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; people used to run their fingers down the "who" list. Earnest named his program after this phenomenon.

* Foobar — from the U.S. Army slang acronym, FUBAR Both "foo" and "bar" are used as metasyntatic variables.


* Gentoo — a Linux distribution, named after a variety of penguin, the universal Linux mascot.

* GNU — a project with an original goal of creating a free operating system.:Gnu is also a species of African antelope. The founder of the GNU project Richard Stallman liked the name because of the humour associated with its pronunciation and was also influenced by the song "The Gnu Song" [] , by Flanders and Swann which is a song sung by a gnu. It is also an early example of a recursive acronym -- "GNU's Not Unix".

* Google — search engine on the web.: The name started as an exaggerated 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.

* Gopher — an early distributed document search and retrieval network protocol on the Internet: The source of the name is claimed to be three-fold: first, that it is used to "go-for" information; second, that it does so through a menu of links analogous to gopher holes; and third, that the mascot of the protocol authors' organization, the University of Minnesota, is Goldy the Gopher.

* grep — a Unix command line utility: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".


* Hotmail — free email service, now part of MSN.: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.

* i18n — short for internationalization.:"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 — an instant messaging service.: ICQ is not an acronym. It is a play on the phrase "I seek you" (similar to CQ in ham radio usage).

* ID10T - pronounced "ID ten T" - is a code frequently used by a customer service representative (CSR) to annotate their notes and identify the source of a problem as the person who is reporting the problem rather than the system being blamed. This is a thinly veiled reference to the CSR's opinion that the person reporting the problem is an IDIOT. Example: Problem reported caused by ID10T, no resolution possible. See also PEBKAC.

* Jakarta Project — a project constituted by Sun and Apache to create a web server for Java servlets and JSPs.:Jakarta was the name of the conference room at Sun where most of the meetings between Sun and Apache took place. The conference room was most likely named after Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, which is located on the northwest coast of the island of Java.

* Javaprogramming language:Originally called "D", but with the connotation of a near-failing mark on a report card the language was renamed "Oak" by Java-creator James Gosling, from the tree that stood outside his window. The programming team at Sun had to look for a substitute name as there was already another programming language called Oak. "Java" was selected from a list of suggestions, primarily because it is a popular slang term for coffee, especially that grown on the island of Java. As the programmers drank a lot of coffee, this seemed an appropriate name. Many people mistakenly think that Java is indeed an acronym and spell it JAVA. When one of the original Java programmers from Sun was asked to define JAVA he said it stood for nothing, but if it must stand for something: "Just Another Vague Acronym."

* Job

* Kerberos — a computer network authentication protocol that is used by both Windows 2000 and Windows XP as their default authentication method.:When created by programmers at MIT in the 1970s, they wanted a name that suggested high security for the project, so they named it after the Greek mythology character "kerberos", (also spelled Cerberus), the mythical three-headed canine guarding Hades' gates. The reference to Greek mythology is most likely because Kerberos was developed as part of Project Athena.


* Linux — an operating system kernel, and the common name for the operating system which uses it.: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 an operating system that would address the problems of Minix. 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".

* Lisa — A personal computer designed at Apple Computer during the early 1980s.:Apple stated that LISA was an acronym for Local Integrated Software Architecture; however, it is often inferred that the machine was originally named after the daughter of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and that this acronym was invented later to fit the name. Accordingly, two humorous suggestions for expanding the acronym included Let's Invent Some Acronym and Let's Invent Silly Acronyms.

* Lotus Software — Lotus founder Mitch Kapor got the name for his company from 'The Lotus Position' ('Padmasana' in Sanskrit). Kapor used to be a teacher of Transcendental Meditation technique as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.


* Apple Macintosh, Mac — computer system from Apple Computer.:from McIntosh, a popular type of apple. Jef Raskin, a computer scientist, is credited with this naming.

* Mac OS — The operating system used in the Macintosh computer system.:from "Mac", a shortened form of Macintosh and a commonly used name for the Macintosh computer system (see elsewhere on this page), and "OS", the common abbreviation for "operating system".

* Memoization — the process of automatically modifying functions to include caching behavior.:Coined by Donald Michie in his 1968 paper "Memo Functions and Machine Learning".

* Mozilla — a web browser and successor to Netscape Communicator.:When Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, created a browser to replace the Mosaic browser, it was internally named Mozilla (Mosaic-Killer, Godzilla). When Netscape's Navigator source code was made open source, Mozilla was the internal name for the open source version.


* Nerd — A colloquial term for a computer person, especially an obsessive, singularly focused one. :Earlier spelling of the term is "Nurd" and the original spelling is "Knurd", but the pronunciation has remained the same. The term originated at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the late 1940s. 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 international popularity.

* Novell NetWare — a network operating system from Novell.: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.

* Oracle — a relational database management system (RDBMS).: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 evidently saw this as a system that would give answers to all questions). 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.


* Pac-Man — a video arcade game: The term comes from "paku paku" which is a Japanese onomatopoeia (written version of a noise) used for noisy eating; similar to "chomp chomp". 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".

* PCMCIA — the standards body for PC card and ExpressCard, expansion card form factors.: The Personal Computer Memory Card International Association is an international standards body that defines and promotes standards for expansion devices such as modems and external hard disk drives to be connected to notebook computers. Over time, the acronym PCMCIA has been used to refer to the PC card form factor used on notebook computers. A twist on the acronym is People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms. Most people call this PCI slot's in which computer hardware can be added.

* PEBKAC - an acronym for "Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair", which is a code frequently used by a customer service representative (CSR) to annotate their notes and identify the source of a problem as the person who is reporting the problem rather than the system being blamed. This is a thinly veiled reference to the CSR's opinion that the person reporting the problem is the problem. Example: PEBKAC, no resolution possible. See also ID10T.

* PentiumMicroprocessor from Intel: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.

:Since some early Pentium chips contained a mathematical precision error, it has been jokingly suggested that the reason for the chip being named Pentium rather than 586 was that Intel chips would calculate 486 + 100 = 585.99999948.

* Perl — an interpreted scripting language: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.

* PHP — a server-side scripting language :Originally called "Personal Home Page Tools" by creator Rasmus Lerdorf, it was rewritten by developers Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans who gave it the recursive name "PHP Hypertext Preprocessor". Lerdorf currently insists the name should not be thought of as standing for anything, for he selected "Personal Home Page" as the name when he did not foresee PHP evolving into a general-purpose programming language.

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

* Ping — computer network tool used to detect hosts:The author of ping, Mike Muuss, named it after the pulses of sound made by a sonar called a "ping". Later Dave Mills provided the backronym "Packet Internet Groper".

* PKZIPcompression or zipping tool. It was written by Phil Katz and stands for Phil Katz's ZIP program.

* Python programming language — an interpreted scripting language. Named after the television series Monty Python's Flying Circus.


* Radio button — a GUI widget used for making selections. :Radio buttons got their name from the preset buttons in radio receivers. When one used to select preset stations on a radio receiver physically instead of electronically, depressing one preset button would pop out whichever other button happened to be pushed in.

* Red Hat Linux — a Linux distribution from Red Hat.: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.

* RSA — an asymmetric algorithm for public key cryptography: Based on the surnames of the authors of this algorithm — Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Len Adleman.

* Samba software — a free implementation of Microsoft's networking protocol. The name "samba" comes from inserting two vowels into the name of the standard protocol that Microsoft Windows network file system use, called SMB (Server Message Block). The author searched a dictionary using "grep" for words containing S M and B in that order; the only matches were "Samba" and "Salmonberry".

* SCO UNIX — a UNIX variant from SCO.:The company was called "Santa Cruz Operation", as its office was in Santa Cruz, California.

* sed — stands for stream editor, used for textual transformation of a sequential stream of text data. It is modelled after the ed editor.

* shareware — coined by Bob Wallace to describe his word processor PC-Write in early 1983. Prior to this Jim Knopf (also known as Jim Button) and Andrew Fluegelman called their distributed software "user supported software" and "freeware" respectively, but it was Wallace's terminology that stuck.

* Slashdot — a technology oriented weblog: While registering the domain, Slashdot-creator Rob Malda wanted to make the URL silly, and unpronounceable ("" gets pronounced as "h t t p colon slash slash slash dot dot org") Alternatively, many say that the Slashdot(/.) name refers to the *NIX command line interpretation of the "root" directory, or a play on the website being the "root" of all tech news.

* Sosumi — one of the system sounds introduced in Apple Computer's System 7 operating system in 1991.: Apple Computer had a long litigation history with Apple Records, the Beatles' recording company. Fearing that the ability to record musical sound would cause yet more legal action, the Apple legal department allegedly ordered the sound to be renamed from its original, musical name. So the developers changed the name to Sosumi ("So sue me"). Depending on who was asked, they quipped that it was Japanese for either "absence of sound" or "a light pleasing tone".

* Spam — unwanted repetitious messages, such as unsolicited bulk e-mail: 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, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, lovely SPAM, wonderful SPAM", over and over again, drowning out all conversation.

* SPIM — a simulator for a virtual machine closely resembling the instruction set of MIPS (computer manufacturer) processors, is simply MIPS spelled backwards. MIPS stands for Millions of Instructions Per Second, from way back when that was something to boast of. In recent time, SPIM has also come to mean SPam sent over Instant Messaging.

* Swing — a graphics library for Java.:"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 unexpectedly 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.


* Task

* Tomcat — a web server from the Jakarta Project:"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 — a document processing system for Unix:"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".

* Trojan horse (computing) — a malicious program that is disguised as legitimate software. : 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.

* TWAIN — a standard for acquiring data from image scanners: Strictly speaking, TWAIN is not an acronym, but has often been referred to as an acronym for "Technology Without An Intelligent Name".

* Ubuntu Linux — a Debian-based Linux distribution sponsored by Canonical Ltd. The name derives from ubuntu, a South African ideology.

* Unix — an operating system.:When Bell Labs pulled out of the MULTICS (MULTiplexed Information and Computing System) project, 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 for a spare DEC minicomputer, allegedly found in a corridor. They needed an 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".

* vi — a text editor, initialism for visual, a command in the ex editor which helped users to switch to the visual mode from the ex mode. the first version was written by Bill Joy at UC Berkeley.

* Vim — a text editor, acronym for Vi improved after Vim added several features over the vi editor. Vim however had started out as an imitation of Vi and was expanded as Vi imitation.

* Virus — a piece of program code that spreads by making copies of itself.: 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. A computer virus's basic function is to insert its own executable code into that of other existing executable files, literally making it the electronic equivalent to the biological virus, the basic function of which is to insert its genetic information into that of the invaded cell, forcing the cell to reproduce the virus.


* Wiki or WikiWiki — a hypertext document collection or the collaborative software used to create it.: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 Hawaiian term he learned on his first visit to the islands. The airport counter agent directed him to take the wiki wiki bus between terminals.

* Worm — a self-replicating program, similar to a virus.: The name 'worm' was taken from a 1970s 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.

* WYSIWYG - describes a system in which content during editing appears very similar to the final product.:Acronym for "What You See Is What You Get", the phrase was originated by a newsletter published by Arlene and Jose Ramos, called WYSIWYG. It was created for the emerging Pre-Press industry going electronic in the late 1970s.

* X Window System — a windowing system for computers with bitmap displays: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.

* Yahoo! — internet portal and web directory.:Yahoo!'s history site says the name is an acronym for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle", but some remember that in its early days (mid-1990s), when Yahoo! lived on a server called, it was glossed as "Yet Another Hierarchical Object Organizer." 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.

* Zip — a file format now also used as a verb to mean "compress":The file format was created by Phil Katz, and given the name by his friend Robert Mahoney. The compression tool Phil Katz created was called PKZIP. Zip means "speed", and they wanted to imply their product would be faster than ARC and other compression formats of the time.

See also

* List of company name etymologies
* Lists of etymologies

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