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Matt Coady
Matt Coady

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The Land Before Internet: How everyday computer terms got their names

3 Years ago last month I made a simple tweet then went to bed.

It was one of those aha "I feel like an idiot for not making that obvious connection" moments.

Well as it turns out a lot of people felt the same way because I woke up to dozens of notifications. Years later, at 1.2 million impressions it's still my most active tweet (by a long shot). In the replies, twitter user "HTeuMeuLeu" followed up with this equally interesting bit of technology naming history:

Referring to the 'case' of letters used by printing press operators and the upper part of the case and lower part of the case to store the letters.

This got me thinking about what other terms have a long history hiding in plain sight. Wikipedia has a list dedicated to the subject: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_computer_term_etymologies

I'm just going to pick out a few favourites:

Cursor

Cursor

Cursor is Latin for 'runner.' A cursor is the name given to the transparent slide engraved with a hairline that is used for marking a point on a slide rule. The term was then transferred to computers through analogy.

Dashboard

Dashboard

Originally, the word dashboard applied to a barrier of wood or leather fixed at the front of a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh to protect the driver from mud or other debris "dashed up" (thrown up) by the horses' hooves.

Patch

Patch

Historically, software suppliers distributed patches on paper tape or on punched cards, expecting the recipient to cut out the indicated part of the original tape (or deck), and patch in (hence the name) the replacement segment.

Ping

Ping

The author of ping, Mike Muuss, named it after the pulses of sound made by a sonar called a "ping".

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