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The Origins of 10 Popular Tech Terms! | Fraser Valley Tech Consultants

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The world of the internet has given birth to many new and bizarre terms. In fact, the poor old Oxford English Dictionary has to add 100’s of new words to its roster, every year, thanks to pop culture and the internet! Some of these are obvious in their origins… but then there are some that make you scratch your head. Whilst this article could be a LOT longer, we’ve picked 10 of the most popular for you…

Blog

The popular Blogging world, as we know it, began with a writer by the name of Jorn Barger in 1997. He created a site where he shared links with his readers, and called it “Robot Wisdom WebLog” - the WebLog part being a shortened reference of logging the web. 2 years later, programmer Peter Merholz shortened “Weblog” again to “blog”, and it was subsequently picked up by users on platforms like Wordpress.

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Bug

This is one of those terms that has multiple claims for its origin. In the 1870’s Thomas Edison talked about "bugs" in the electrical circuits in his notebooks. However, it’s first usage in the computer world was believed to have been in 1947. Computer pioneer, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, was working on the Harvard Mark II computer when work was suspended due to the presence of a moth stuck in a relay. The moth was caught and taped into the logbook, along with the comment “first actual case of bug being found”. The moth, still in his sticky-taped incarceration, can actually be seen on display in the Smithsonian Museum.

Cookies

Once again, the origin of this one is up for some debate. One story goes that is it a reference to the fortune cookie – where your remembered information hidden inside some code is compared to the little piece of paper hidden inside the sweet treat.

However, the inventor of the web cookie, Lou Montulli, explained in his blog,

"I had heard the term 'magic cookie' from an operating systems course from college ... I liked the term 'cookies' for aesthetic reasons. Cookies was the first thing I came up with and the name stuck."

We don’t know for certain where "magic cookies" came from, but another theory out there was that it is a reference to old video games, where players had to gain "magic cookies" to advance.

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Emoji

The word emoji comes from the Japanese 絵 (e = picture) 文 (mo = writing) 字 (ji = character). Shigetaka Kurita invented the concept in 1999 and it began with simple, rudimentary symbols like the smiley face and the first 250 emoji as we now know them today.

Unfortunately, his former company, Docomo, wasn't able to obtain a copyright for his invention, and Apple soon added them to their devices with glee, making them the global phenomenon that they are today, and regressing us to a form of communication that we thought had died with the ancient Egyptians!

Firewall

This term has been around for hundreds of years and is a literal description of what it was - a wall designed to protect buildings from a spreading fire. In the computer world, the threat may be viruses rather than fire, but the function of stopping them spread to the important contents is the same.

Hashtag

Once upon a time, the "#" symbol was called the pound sign. But that only really worked in the U.S., as in the UK, if you talked about a pound sign, they would assume you were talking about their currency, which used a completely different character, £.  To the Brits (and many other cultures) # was called a hash sign. The world then shrunk exponentially, with the birth of the internet, and the pound sign’s non-US name (hash) took over.  So, when the symbol was adopted for the online search function, “tag” was simply added to describe the word following the hash and voila,"hashtag"!

Spam

Fans of Monty Python should be able to work out where this term comes from! If you are not a fan, the comedy team wrote a sketch about these cans of…er… “lunch meat” (is it meat??!) in which the word spam was repeated over and over. Early chatroom fans started using the word "spam" to refer to people who clogged up chatrooms with macros that said the same things over and over again. So, when piles of unwanted email began similarly clogging up the internet in the early 90s, these people began to call it spam too.

Stream

Remember when a stream was just a nice flowing little river? Now, it’s more linked with the continuous flow of data and content fed to us on hour-devouring platforms like YouTube and Netflix (or whatever new streaming services we are about to be bombarded with in the upcoming months!). Streaming data isn’t that new though, and actually dates back to the 1920s. The first use of the term streaming was for the system that sent signals over electrical lines, and later evolved into elevator music.

Troll

You could be forgiven for thinking this one started with the annoying creatures that hide under bridges in Scandinavian folklore – and in fact, they do now bear a strong resemblance. However, it originally came from the verb "trolling," - a fishing technique where you slowly drag a baited hook from the boat while still moving.

It is believed that the term was first used online in the AFU newsgroup, which discussed urban legends and was famous (or should that be infamous) for being a minefield for newbies to the group. The more seasoned group members would haze the newbies by baiting them with topics that had already been previously discussed to death. In the late 90s, however, the site became so busy that this trolling itself was considered more annoying, giving it a more negative feel. Now, it is used to describe an annoying person just looking to pick a fight, leaning more towards the alternative Scandinavian origin.

404

As much as I’d love to regale you with a fantastical tale of how something was stolen by 404 monkeys in a tale of pirates and adventurers, this one is a bit more boring. "404 Not Found/Error" is just a coding reference. The first 4 indicates a client error, such as a mistyped URL and the next two digits, 04, just indicate the specific error encountered, which is why that site wasn't found. That’s it really!