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You Probably Don’t Know The Stories Behind These 10 Common Tech Terms

You Probably Don’t Know The Stories Behind These 10 Common Tech Terms

Words like ‘spam’, ‘mouse’ and ‘hacker’ are ones that we instantly associate with technology. As we tend to use them very regularly in a world dominated by tech, they have become a natural part of our lexicon. They are so natural, in fact, that we rarely question where these terms originate or why they have been used to describe technology. Why has the device to control a computer’s cursor been named after a small rodent? How has the name of canned processed meat become a way to describe unwanted messages? There are fascinating stories behind many of these common tech terms that you probably didn’t know. We look at ten of the most popular and find out their origins.

1. Hacker

Hacking is a word now synonymous with the dark side of the internet. It’s a common tech term that describes a computer user who breaks into software and uses its data. However, the origins of the word ‘hacking’ are remarkably different. In the past, it was used to describe someone who was a tech guru. The book ‘Piracy Cultures‘ says that the term was first applied to tech in the 1980s and meant someone who “works like a hack at writing and experimenting with software, one who enjoys computer programing for its own sake”. Some people have attempted to reclaim its original meaning, calling those who break into software ‘crackers’ instead.

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2. Robot

It’s hardly a surprise to find out that robots have their origins in science fiction. However, the work of fiction to coin the common tech term was not a H.G. Wells or Philip K. Dick story; it was a Czech language play from 1921. It was called ‘R.U.R.‘ and told the story of a factory that makes artificial people who eventually rise up to wipe out the human race. Today, a robot is no longer just a science fiction character, though. Robots are now a reality and are being used in fields like military and healthcare. Furthermore, the play’s writer Karel Capek’s vision of the future might not have been too far off. Bill Gates believes that they will one day be an essential part of every company, forcing many humans out of a job.

3. Meme

Everyone has seen a meme in some shape or form. A meme is any form of information that is imitated across the internet, be it a link, image or video. However, while we’ve all experienced a meme, many of us don’t know the story behind its name. This common tech term was coined by none other than Richard Dawkins who used the word in his 1976 book ‘The Selfish Gene‘. Of course, this was many years before Good Guy Greg or the Harlam Shake. Therefore, Dawkins could never have anticipated its widespread use across the internet. However, it still bares resemblance to the original meaning: the way cultural information spreads. Dawkin adapted it from the Greek word ‘mimeme’ which describes a thing that’s imitated, and it is also closely related to the French word ‘même’ which means ‘same’.

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4. Bug

Most people believe that the common tech term ‘bug’ came from computer programmer Grace Hopper, who literally found a bug in her system. Hopper was working on Harvard University’s electromechanical computer in 1947 when she found a dead moth in the relay. Ever since, any technical hiccup became known as a bug. However, Hopper and her staff weren’t the first to use it; that would have been Thomas Edison. In 1873, aged 26, he called a fault with his quadruplex telegram system a ‘bug’. He wrote in his notebook: “Awful lot of bugs still.” His journals showed that he continued to use the word throughout his career, too.

5. Spam

Every time you get an email telling you you’ve “won the lottery” and you mark it as ‘spam’, you have the British comedians Monty Python to thank for its name. The common tech term for copious amounts of junk messages derives from a sketch in which everything in a cafe contains spam. One disgruntled woman insists that she doesn’t like spam, and soon the patrons begin to relentlessly chant and sing the word ‘spam’. The sketch remained popular even in the internet age and the word was later used to describe annoying and unwanted stuff that’s everywhere.

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6. Hive

On the Windows Registry, a database that stores configuration settings for operating systems, branches are stored in numerous disk files called hives. The origin of this common tech term is something of a practical joke that existed among Microsoft employees. One of the developers was so afraid of bees that the people responsible for the registry decided to fill it with bee references. To make fun of him, they called the area where data is stored ‘cells’ and the files themselves became ‘hives’. The name has stuck ever since.

7. Mouse

Douglas Engelbart, the creator of the mouse who passed away last year, never really opened up about the origins of its name. He claimed that no one could remember why they chose it, except the device bared a slight resemblance to a mouse with a tail. However, a hardware designer who worked on the technology at the time, Roger Bates, has a slightly different recollection. He wrote in his book ‘What The Dormouse Said‘ that the cursor on the screen used to be called a CAT. The navigational device was called a ‘mouse’ because it would chase the cursor.

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8. Blog

A programmer of games and educational software, John Barger, decided to create a website in 1997 to share his thoughts on whatever he so desired. He wrote about computing, artificial intelligence and James Joyce. He called the website a “weblog”, seeing as it logged his thoughts and feelings via the web. Two years later, the term was reworked by Peter Merholz who shortened it down to just ‘blog’ for his own personal site. It became a common tech term later that year when Pyra Labs decided to create a website that would allow people to set up their own similar online journals and called it Blogger. It remains a popular platform for blogging today. Meanwhile, the act itself is a pastime that millions of people all over the globe have engaged in.

9. Cookies

The inventor of the cookie, Lou Montulli, explained why he chose the word ‘cookies’ to describe small pieces of information stored on websites. “I had heard the term ‘magic cookie’ from an operating systems course from college,” he wrote on his blog. “The term has a somewhat similar meaning to the way Web Cookies worked and I liked the term ‘cookies’ for aesthetic reasons.” So where did the term magic cookies come from? There’s no explanation, but it’s believed to have derived from an old arcade video game in which players collect them to progress.

10. Firewall

In the real world, a firewall is a barrier that has been designed inside a building to protect it in the event of a fire. In technology, it works in much the same way. It’s a digital barrier that protects software from external problems getting in and causing damage. Although it’s now a common tech term, the word was used in a technological sense for the first time in 1988 by the Digital Equipment Corporation, who published a paper about a filter system known as packet filter firewalls.

Featured photo credit: Stuart Anthony via flickr.com

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Last Updated on November 5, 2019

5 Best Language Learning Apps to Master a New Language

5 Best Language Learning Apps to Master a New Language

Learning a new language is no easy feat. While a language instructor is irreplaceable, language learning apps have come to revolutionize a lot of things and it has made language learning much easier. Compared to language learning websites, apps offer a more interactive experience to learn a new language.

The following language learning apps are the top recommended apps for your language learning needs:

1. Duolingo

    Duolingo is a very successful app that merged gamification and language learning. According to Expanded Ramblings, the app now counts with 300 million users.

    Duolingo offers a unique concept, an easy-to-use app and is a great app to accompany your language acquisition journey. The courses are created by native speakers, so this is not data or algorithm-based.

    The app is free and has the upgrade options with Duolingo Plus for $9.99, which are add free lessons. The mobile app offers 25 languages and is popular for English-speaking learners learning other languages.

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    Download the app

    2. HelloTalk

      HelloTalk aims to facilitate speaking practice and eliminate the stresses of a real-time and life conversation. The app allows users to connect to native speakers and has a WhatsApp like chat that imitates its interface.

      There is a perk to this app. The same native speakers available also want to make an even exchange and learn your target language, so engagement is the name of the game.

      What’s more, the app has integrated translation function that bypasses the difficulties of sending a message with a missing word and instead fills in the gap.

      Download the app

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      3. Mindsnacks

        Remember that Duolingo has integrated gamification in language learning? Well, Mindsnacks takes the concept to another level. There is an extensive list of languages available within the app comes with eight to nine games designed to learn grammar, vocabulary listening.

        You will also be able to visualize your progress since the app integrates monitoring capabilities. The layout and interface is nothing short of enjoyable, cheerful and charming.

        Download the app

        4. Busuu

          Bussu is a social language learning app. It is available on the web, Android, and iOS. It currently supports 12 languages and is free.

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          The functionality allows users to learn words, simple dialogues and questions related to the conversations. In addition, the dialogues are recorded by native speakers, which brings you close to the language learning experience.

          When you upgrade, you unlock important features including course materials. The subscription is $17 a month.

          Download the app

          5. Babbel

            Babbel is a subscription-based service founded in 2008. According to LinguaLift, it is a paid cousing of Duolingo. The free version comes with 40 classes, and does not require you to invest any money.

            Each of the classes starts with with a sequential teaching of vocabulary with the help of pictures. The courses are tailor made and adapted to the students’ level, allowing the learning to be adjusted accordingly.

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            If you started learning a language and stopped, Babbel will help you pick up where you started.

            Download the app

            Takeaways

            All the apps recommended are tailored for different needs, whether you’re beginning to learn a language or trying to pick back up one. All of them are designed by real-life native speakers and so provide you with a more concrete learning experience.

            Since these apps are designed to adapt to different kinds of learning styles, do check out which one is the most suitable for you.

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            Featured photo credit: Yura Fresh via unsplash.com

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