[Not spam] Real answers to the question bugging you – How did tech terms get their names?
You know how thoroughly tech has become part of our lives when some industrial terms are now used in everyday conversation.
You know, like when you complain that you can’t order lunch because the food delivery app is really “buggy”, or that your ex has been “spamming” you with texts.
If you’ve ever wondered how these terms came about (why is a glitch a bug?), then you’ve come to the right place! Let’s explore the origins of some common tech terms!
Bugs have been bugging since 19th century
A bug means an error or flaw in a computer system’s software or hardware nowadays. But it’s been used by engineers and other technical professionals for a pretty long time.
One of the earliest records of the word “bug” being used to describe a tech problem comes from an 1870s letter by Thomas Edison, in which he wrote that he “did find a ‘bug’ in my apparatus”. That’s right, the bug is more than 150 years old.
Other famous users of the term include writer Isaac Asimov, who used it in one of his short stories in 1944.
But the best use of “bug” in our book comes from 1947, when the operators of a giant calculator (a wall to wall behemoth, not the pocket one you carry around) found a moth that was causing a malfunction. They taped it to the incident report – a literal bug causing a bug!
A mouse that’s welcome in every home
Although computer mice are not as common a sight as they once were – desktops are giving way to laptops with trackpads, tablets, and mobile devices – the mouse still deserves a mention because it fundamentally changed the way we interact with computers.
Users no longer had to tap-tap-tap on keyboards to wade through a graphical interface. Instead, the mere motion of the hand was enough to navigate your way around the screen as can be seen in this )1968 demonstration, self-dubbed the “mother of all demos”.
As for the name? Unfortunately there’s no cool backstory to that. The inventor and presenter Doug Engelbart said plainly during the demo: “I don’t know why we call it a mouse.”
But if you look at the video linked above, the first version of the mouse had the connecting wire (yes, the mouse was once wired, the wireless mouse is a much more recent development, dear Gen Z readers) coming out at the back instead of the front of the mouse, making it resemble a real life rodent even more. And that resemblance is what we’ll have to settle for as a backstory.
Spam – from yummy canned meat to hated junk mail
Once upon a time, spam referred to only canned processed meat – more commonly known as luncheon meat here. How did it come to mean junk email and text messages offering everything from dubious stock tips to scam baits dangling instant inheritances?
Most sources online point to a 1970 episode of the Monty Python sketch show in which a restaurant has spam in almost every item on the menu, exasperating one customer but delighting others as they sing “Spam, spam, spam, spam…” You get the idea.
In the 1980s, early versions of online chat rooms occasionally saw spammy behaviour. One example was an offending user using an automated script to repeatedly type the word “spam”, flooding the channel and killing legitimate discussion.
But according to an internet researcher, it was in 1994 when a couple of lawyers posted their services on as many online message boards as they could that “spam” caught on with the wider public.
Cookies that aren’t munchy
This is another example of a snack turned tech term that’s not so positive nowadays. Cookies store data of users so that websites can serve up personalised content at a faster speed, though with increasing concerns about privacy in recent years, they’ve taken on a somewhat negative rep.
As for the name, it comes from the term “magic cookie”, a pack of data sent back and forth by Unix programmes. You can read more about how the cookie came about from none other than the inventor himself in this blog post.
And by the way, he definitely did not mean for it to be a means for advertisers to track you.
Worms worming their way in
A computer worm is a malware that replicates itself across a network, infecting connected computers. The 1975 novel Shockwave Rider is credited for coining the term “worm” to describe a self-propagating programme.
Of course, it entered public consciousness only after a major attack by the Morris Worm that affected the networks of various universities and government agencies. It was dubbed the first major internet attack by the FBI.
New terms coming up all the time
Tech is ever evolving, so new lingo will definitely emerge as well. Case in point, viruses usually refer to malicious computer programmes. But social media has made going viral a form of praise for engaging user content.
We look forward to seeing ever more inventive and catchy terms that are ear-worms we don’t mind spamming our friends with!https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/how-tech-terms-got-their-names