Etymology of Key Words


Etymology refers to the study of the origin of words and how their meaning and structure has changed over time. This can be done by determining how it has been translated over the years from one language to another, its earliest known use, identifying similar words which are related to it in various languages and using these findings to come up with its ancestral origin.

Just like other words in other languages, most of the words used in what can be said to be computer language, get their meaning from certain events, happenings or occurrences which influenced those who came up with them, and made them decide to stick with those names. Some of these events even had sentimental meaning to those who came up with them.

The following are some of the common technical terms used in computers and their etymological origin.


The term bug refers to a computer program error or defect that stops or prevents the program from working the way it is supposed to.

Different stories have been put forth regarding the origin of the word bug but the most common as far as its relation to computers is concerned is the one associated by Grace Murray Hopper,

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Etymology of Key Words

a pioneer in computer science who found a moth inside a computer. The moth was stuck in one of the computers circuits causing it to stop working. It was removed and from there henceforth whenever there was a problem with the circuits, those trying to repair them said they were searching for bugs. The action of removing the moth from the circuit is also said to have inspired the coining of the word debugging the computer. (Shapiro 1987: 376- 378)


The term gopher refers to the procedure that is followed in searching and retrieving documents from the internet. The origin of the word gopher is said to be coined from the words go for information which means searching for information. In searching for information through the gopher system, one does so through a choice or set of links similar to gopher holes, which are a group of tunnels made and used by gophers as safety tunnels. Gophers are burrowing rodents which live underground in their tunnels.


A mouse in a computer refers to a pointing gadget that directs the movement of the computer’s cursor on the monitor or screen of the computer. The word mouse originated from the shape of the gadget as it was believed to resemble the rodent. The wire that connects a mouse to the computer gives the illusion of the tail of the rodent and its movement as one moves the computer mouse around is similar to the movement of the rodent’s tail as it runs. Retrieved from mouse .html on 13th December 2010


A blog is a form of website that is commonly created and maintained by an individual where other people get to post regular comments and materials such as pictures, videos and graphics.

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Etymology of Key Words

Some offer information on specific subjects or issues while others are used as personal memoirs. It is the short form of the word web log which was first used in 1997 by Jorn Barger to illustrate his assortment of links on the internet. Later in 1999, Peter Merholz created the word

blog to replace it. (Clayton, 2010) retrieved from


on 13th January 2010


Podcast refers to a sequence of audio or video media files that are discharged at regular intervals and downloaded through various webs or networks.

The name was popularised by Ben Hammersley in 2004 in his article in the guardian newspaper along with other names suggested for new computer medium. (Raj, 2009) retrieved from www. on 13th January 2010


This is a computer system device that is used to identify a host which is a system that is used by someone in an isolated location. The word ping was coined by Mike Muuss to refer to the sound produced by sonar pulses. Sonar is a system that uses sound broadcast to pass information to or sense vessels underwater making a ping sound.


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Etymology of Key Words

Daemon refers to the procedure which runs in the background of an operating system. The use of the term was instigated by Maxwell’s daemon in physics which refers to a non existent force which was said to be working in the background to aid in the sorting of particles which had different velocities. Socrates also used the word daemon while referring to a guiding spirit which can be translated to mean guardian angel. Daemon thus means a force that is taken to work in a mysterious way without drawing peoples’ attention. Greek myths refer to daemons as characters that carried out some duties which the Greek gods could not be bothered with doing. (Daemon Computer Software Encyclopaedia) retrieved from on 13th January 2010


Java refers to a language that is used in programming. It was originally denoted as the letter D, but the relation of the letter with a bad grade it was renamed to Oak by James Gosling who created java. He named the language after an oak tree outside one of his windows. Since there already was a programming language known as Oak, they came up with different suggestions and from the list agreed to go with the word java which was slang for coffee as it was popular at the time. The members of the programming team at Sun Microsystems who suggested the name used to drink a lot of coffee and they easily agreed to the name.


Perl refers to a scripting language that is used in computer programming. This language was originally referred to as pearl in reference to the Bible’s pearl of great rice but its creator Larry Wall wanted a shorter name. He went through the dictionary rejecting all short words with three or four letters and even contemplated naming the language Gloria which was his wife’s name. But before the language was officially made public, he discovered there was already another programming language that went by the name pearl and so he opted to change the name to Perl.

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Etymology of Key Words


GNU refers to a project whose goal is to create free operating systems. Gnu is an antelope species that is found in Africa. Richard Stallman Stallman, who founded the GNU project, liked the name because of the hilarity connected with the way it was pronounced. His decision to pick the name was also influenced by a song sang by a gnu, that is the gnu song. (List of Computer Term Etymologies) Retrieved from list_of_computer _ term _ etym ologies


on 13th January 2010


Byte is the smallest unit of computer related memory. It comprises of eight bits.

Werner Buchholz came up with this term in 1956 when the IBM Stretch computer was still in its early stages of creation. He improved the word bite so that people would not accidentally or otherwise write it as bit.


This is a pack of information which passes through the web server and a browser. Lou Montulli came up with this word as an improvement of the term magic cookies which was coined by Unix programmers. (Jaggi) retrieved from on 13th January 2010

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Etymology of Key Words


This refers to a web server from the Apache Software Foundation Company. The person behind the name used it at first because it easily caught peoples’ attention but it was later revealed that the name had more meaning to it. Its founders indeed used patches, which are software’s created to solve data related problems, to create secret messages for NCSA’s httpd daemon making up the words a patchy server.


The origin of names and words used to describe different things may be as a result of a complex process or as a result of something really simple. Computer Language and jargon is no different as can be seen from the origin of the different words described above.


Shapiro, F. R. (1987). Etymology of the Computer Bug: History and Folklore. American Speech, vol. 62, pp. 376- 378.

Clayton, R. (2010). Etymology of Blog: How a Created Helps its Culture to Create. http://www.c

Raj. (2009). Podcasting. E I Developers Pvt Ltd. s/podcasting.html

List of Computer Term Etymologies. Retrieved from list_of_computer

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Jaggi, D. Cookies, Spyware and your Privacy. Retrieved from tations/Privacy.ppt