Where tech terms like 'bug', 'robot' and 'cloud' originally came from
Hey, did you see that there's a new patch for that game out? Yeah, it introduces a new bug, so make sure you saved your game to the cloud before you grab it.
Thanks to the smartphones, tablets, and laptops we're increasingly carrying around all day, computer jargon is entering our daily speech at an alarming rate. But these words started somewhere else.
From bugs to cloud to to mice to spam, here's where we get 11 common computer terms:
1: The term "bug", meaning a flaw in a piece of software, gained popularity after a moth flew into the insides of the Harvard Mark II supercomputer in 1946.
2: "Booting," meaning to start a device up (think "rebooting") comes from "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps". Before a computer does anything else, it loads a simple program called the Bios (Basic Input/Output System). Early computer scientists saw this as the computer pulling itself up by its own bootstraps.
3: Today, a "library" is a selection of reusable code snippets that developers use to perform common tasks without having to reinvent the wheel. Back in the 1940s, a "Library" was a selection of program tape literally snipped until programmers wanted to glue and iron them back into their applications.
4: Today, a "patch" is an improvement to a piece of software or app. It comes from the 1940s, when computer programs were "written" on punchcards: To change a program, you'd have to literally patch a hole with tape.
5: A "cookie" is the tiny file sent between your browser and a website to identify you, so you don't have to login again (for example). It traces its roots back to "magic cookie", a programmer term, which itself comes from "fortune cookie", which is a cookie with a message inside.
6: "Spam," or annoying and unwanted email messages, comes from a famous Monty Python sketch (it's worth a watch) where a horde of vikings repeatedly sings "SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, LOVELY SPAM, WONDERFUL SPAM", drowning out the conversation.
7: A computer virus works like a biological one, injecting its own code into other programs and files and spreading. The first use of the term "virus" was probably a '70s novel called When H.A.R.L.I.E. was One, by David Gerrold. The LSD Virus was the scourge of 1994: It would delete all your files and then display the trippy video pictured below.
8: "Cloud computing" got its start in the early 1990s on patent applications as a way to represent pieces of the network that were somebody else's problem. This patent diagram, from US Patent 5,485,455 filed in January 1994, is the first known appearance of the "cloud".
9: The term "robot" was first used in a 1921 play called R.U.R. by writer Karel Čapek. It's from the Czech word "robota", meaning "forced labour". Keep that in mind the next time you accidentally kick a Roomba.
10: "Cyber", as in "cyberspace", "cybercrime", and "cyberwarfare", comes from the term "cybernetics", the term for the academic study of studying systems and organisations. It stems from the Greek word "kybernetes", or "steersman".
11: The humble computer mouse got its name because the Xerox PARC lab researchers who made it thought it looked like a mouse with a tail. Nowadays, most of these mice are tail-less.