Let’s be honest here. Most people who do not work in IT do not “get” IT. We have what must appear to the uninitiated as mystical powers, typing at the command line looks like programming, many of the icons in modern operating systems resemble ancient runes or glyphs, and we oft-times speak in our own secret language. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re doing it until a “normal” looks at us like we’re speaking in tongues, which, in fact, we are. Every culture and trade has its own secret language known only to the initiates, but in today’s post we’re going to look at 57 of the oddest/strangest/most obscure terms we use in what, to us, is everyday language.
Pieces of data
Computer scientists had to come up with terms to define units of data. The first, smallest piece seems like it was self-evident, and the rest naturally follow.
1. Bit: a single binary piece of data, either a 0 or a 1.
2. Byte: eight bits strung together to represent a specific value such as a letter or a digit.
3. Dword: a double word, or 32 bits.
4. Nibble: a half byte, or 4 bits.
5. Word: 16 bits of data used to represent a discrete piece of data.
Terms from email
Everyone these days uses email, and there are plenty of voters and taxpayers who have never known a world without email, but there are some terms that still cause non-techies to think you’re just making things up, or who have no idea why something is called what it is.
6. Emoji: another word for emoticon, it’s those little smiley faces, frowning faces, tables, etc. that are used to convey tone or emotion in written conversations.
7. Spam: We may never have the absolute and authoritative explanation of why junk email is called spam. Some say it’s because you can liken email to ham, and not important email (junk and adverts) as spam, which is not really purely ham. I prefer to give credit to another Monty Python fan.
PC hardware has some funny names that we just take for granted, but they had to come from somewhere.
Bluetooth-named for the Dread Pirate Roberts, ehm, the Dread King Bluetooth of Scandinavia, whose real name was Harald Gormsson. Apparently he had a pretty gnarly smile. No one knows for sure what Intel engineer Jim Kardach was really thinking when he came up with this codename, but it’s so much cooler than calling it Personal Area Network (PAN) that we’re glad the name stuck.
8. Mouse: what else could you expect Doug Englebart and Bill English to call their small device with a tail coming out of it, an X-Y position indicator? Fortunately their word for the cursor, bug, didn’t catch on like their invention the mouse. You can even buy mice that look like mice.
9. TWAIN: a standard for hardware interoperability, this was originally a type of technology without an interesting name, until someone was inspired by Rudyard Kipling to borrow from the Ballad of East and West, since it seemed that “…never the twain shall meet.”
Where would the world be without social media? Well, a lot of people would be out of their parents’ basements; that seems pretty certain. A ton of terms have come out of social media, but these are the ones that have made it into mainstream vocabulary.
10. +1: A more concise way to express “like” defined below. Orders of magnitude can be used to express more emphatic agreement, such as +10 or +100. You will see this in instant messaging, email threads, etc.
11. Hashtag: the # character (called an octothorpe) combined with a word or phrase that concisely defined a conversation, post, tweet, or image into a category, intended to make it easier for people to find by searching on the term associated with the hashtag. Brought into larger awareness by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.
12. Like: in this case, we have Facebook to thank for the thumbs up icon that users can click to indicate they like/support/are in favor of someone’s post. Used in the vernacular, it is a concise way to express agreement. Boss-“Since this Friday is the start of a three day weekend, I think we can all knock off at lunchtime.” Everyone-“Like!” Likes are being embraced by forum heavy websites, Yammer and more.
13. Poke: another term with common origins in Facebook, poking someone is a way to remind them that they are involved in the community, but have not interacted in an extended period of time. It sounds like a lewd act to anyone not familiar with it.
14. Troll: Like the humanoid that lives under bridges and preys upon the weak and innocent, trolls lurk in discussion groups or on social media websites and live only to post inflammatory statements or to ridicule and deride others. Trolling is the verb to define such actions.
15. Tweet: A post to Twitter is called a tweet, and the act of submitting a post is called tweeting.
When we talked about data above, we only mentioned those terms that apply to small representations of data. Here are the terms from programming and software that are used when talking about software.
16. Blob: A blob is a Binary Large Object, and indicates some large amount of data other than just simple text, usually stored within a database.
17. Bug: Whether first used by Thomas Edison, or referring to a moth trapped in an early computer that blocked a relay from properly functioning, today “bug” refers to any glitch or defect in software, hardware, or even the odd human.
18. Crapplet: An applet, usually Java based, that is not worth anything.
19. Dead Tree: A paper printout of an electronic file; frequently done single-sided and in color.
20. Easter Egg: Stemming from the ages-old tradition of hiding colorful eggs for children to seek out, programmers may also embed Easter Eggs in their programs for motivated hackers to find. These can require a very unlikely series of keystrokes, mouse clicks, cheat codes, etc. to activate, meaning it is usually only other programmers with access to source code who can ferret these out. They can include special credit sequences for the development team, games, or jokes. Easter eggs can now be found in operating systems, hardware ROM, and DVD and Blu-ray movies. Up-Down-Up-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-B-A-Start is a popular way to invoke an Easter Egg, as an homage to a Konami game which used this key sequence to access a cheat code. Try it on some home media streaming devices, as some use that to get into admin mode.
21. GUI: A gooey is a Graphical User Interface, and not something that requires hand-sanitizer, but try talking about your GUI around non-techies and see what facial expressions result.
22. Hardcopy: like Dead-Tree above.
23. Hash: A hash is a fixed-length numerical value calculated from a variable length amount of data, and can be used to validate the authenticity or to detect tampering with data. It can also be used in some contexts to represent a value calculated from user credentials. Admins mentioning “pass the hash” want neither a potato and meat dish, nor do they live in Colorado.
24. Thunking: When a program must call a subroutine to complete a task, it is called thunking. In Windows, when a 64-bit operating system must downshift into 32-bit mode for legacy code, or a 32-bit version must run old 8-bit code, it is also called thunking. You can almost hear the processor grinding.
25. Virus: In nature, a virus is a primitive life-form that exists only to replicate itself, consuming resources from a host to manufacture more of itself. It is this behavior that led to code that not only does this, but also causes damage, steals data, and can provide attackers with remote access to victim machines coming to be known as a virus.
26. Warez: All 1337 speakerz replace the letter S with Z, use pidgin grammar, and shorten wordz, so “warez” is short for “softwares” and refers to ill-gotten gains, either pirated, cracked or being used with a key code to circumvent licensing requirements.
27. Worm: A software worm crawls across systems, either seeking specific data or exploiting vulnerabilities which can in turn be used to exploit other systems. Unlike a virus that must be executed by a system, a worm seeks to exploit the system through externally accessible vulnerabilities and does not require user interaction.
The Web has its own set of terms that are used regularly. Here’s three that are cropping up in everyday conversation.
28. 404: The HTTP response code for “File Not Found”, 404 is being used to simply convey things like “not found,” “not here,” or even “I don’t know.”
29. Cookies: Small files used to store state from one visit to a next, cookies are also being used to track users and deliver advertising. Anything that indicates where you have been or what you have done may now be referred to as a cookie, including phone logs and footprints.
30. Wiki: A backronym was coined to say Wiki stands for “What I Know Is” but it is actually Hawaiian for “quick.”
Pronounced “leet’ speak, it’s all the terms, acronyms, and funny sounding phrases that are used in chat, conversation, jokes and even documentation that true denizens of geekdom can use in casual conversation without skipping a beat. Whether they come from programming, IT support, social media, chat, or others, they represent 400 level GeekSpeak. Since most of these are acronyms whose meaning become obvious when written out, we’ll go through most of these quickly.
31. AFK: Away From Keyboard, to signify when you need to step away so people chatting with you don’t think you are now ignoring them.
32. AMA: Ask Me Anything, from the popular Reddit forum’s interviews with celebrities and others of note.
33. Boss Key: Any key built into a game that quickly pauses the game and brings up a spreadsheet or other screen that looks like work so your boss doesn’t realize you were goofing off.
34. CKI: Refers to an error in the Chair Keyboard Interface. Think about what connects the chair to the keyboard.
35. Crack: To compromise or suborn a piece of software, website, or remote system with malicious intent.
36. FUBAR: From an old military jargon term, this means “Fouled Up Beyond All Repair,” or at least close enough to that so my editor won’t get mad at me.
37. Hack: To improve, reverse engineer, adapt for other purposes, or suborn a piece of hardware or software, website, or remote system for the purposes of learning more or expanding capabilities.
38. ID10T: Another error, usually sounded out as Aye-Dee-Ten-Tee but seldom written as it should be pretty obvious what is being said.
39. Interwebs: Slang for the Internet, as a way to poke fun at non-technical people who confuse the Internet with the World Wide Web.
40. IRL: In Real Life
41. Kludge: A poorly programmed piece of software, a piece of hardware cobbled together from spare parts, or a project plan created by someone with no real experience with the task at hand.
42. KOS: From gaming, it stands for Kill On Site and can also be used to indicate data to be deleted or hardware to be retired.
43. LMAO: Laughing My A** Off
44. LMFAO: Laughing My Freaking A** Off
45. LOL: Laugh Out Loud
46. Lulz: Another variant on expressing humor
47. N00b: Spelled with zeroes, it indicates a relative newcomer or someone lacking experience.
48. PEBKAC: Another helpdesk acronym that indicates the Problem Exists Between the Chair and the Keyboard, like a CKI error.
49. Podcast: Not just for iPods anymore, a podcast is any recorded media that can be consumed later and can cover virtually any topic. Podcasts are usually under an hour or so, usually audio only, and consist of a lecture, dialog, or interview on a particular topic. Many podcasters create regular programs with a unifying theme.
50. Pr0n: Also spelled with a zero and with intentional shifting of positions, it stands in the place of porn to indicate pornography, and was probably coined as an attempt to get around simple word filters.
51. Pwn: Gaming term for “own,” indicating that when one player pwns another, he or she has soundly defeated his or her opponent.
52. ROFL: Rolling on the floor laughing
53. ROTFLMFAO: Rolling on the floor laughing your freaking a** off
54. SNAFU: Situation Normal, All Fouled Up, or close enough you get the gist. SNAFUs can be one word status reports, sit-reps, or responses to “sup?”
55. Sneakernet-The old-fashioned way of transferring data using external, portable media by copying the data to disk and then walking it over somewhere.
56. Teh: Whether it’s poor typing skills or just a way to be cool, “Teh” stands in for “The” but can also indicate emphasis.
57. The Tubez: Thanks to US Senator Ted Stevens, whose famous address on Net Neutrality showed conclusively that just because you chair a committee in charge of something, doesn’t mean you actually know anything about it, “the tubez” complete with the Z in place of the S will go down as one of the US government’s most embarrassing contributions to the technology they helped start.
There are so many other great candidates for this list. Which are your favorite? Leave a comment below.