Language has a funny way of changing, evolving, and going in and out of fashion. Many words have completely different meanings today than they did in the past. Similarly, there are words we use every day that we have no idea were initially used in another way. However, the history and original meanings behind some of the tech words we use today are quite hilarious.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the origins of technical terms we use, such as proxies, blogs, and a few others.
10 Everyday Tech Terms With Interesting Back Stories
Have you ever wondered why we call the navigation component of our computers a mouse? Or why do we refer to repetitive and annoying behaviors as spam? Let’s find out.
The word browser has become synonymous with the tool we use to browse the internet. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer are all common examples of popular browsers. However, can you imagine this word had a much more interesting origin than it does now? Before the 19th century, the term browser was used to refer to foragers who would look for shoots, leaves, and twigs to use for animal feed – especially during winter.
After the 19th century, as the root verb browse was starting to be used to refer to other types of searching (frequently in libraries and bookstores), the meaning of the word browser also changed.
When it comes to computers, a server is a piece of hardware and software that provides functionality for other programs or applications, such as websites. This is probably one of the words with a more well-known origin. Originally, the word was used to describe a person who serves food and drink, such as a waiter.
In the technological field, proxies are intermediary servers that act as the middleman between a user and the websites they visit. Individuals use these popular tools to hide their IP addresses and access geo-blocked content. However, before proxies existed in the computing world, they were used, and still are, to refer to a person who’s been given legal permission to act on behalf of another.
Although the word blog sounds very modern, it’s actually much older than the art of blogging. Many of you might even know that it stands for web log, i.e., the logging of life events, experiences, or reactions online. The word blog can be traced back to the 18th century when it was used to describe a person who looked sullen or sulky. After that, in the 19th century, the word blog was also used as schoolboy slang to refer to a servant boy.
Apart from the furry little rodent, a mouse can also be used as a word for the device used to control the cursor on the computer screen. Many people have wondered for years why we call it a mouse, but even the creator of the computer mouse isn’t 100% sure why they called it that. He says it could be that it resembled a mouse with a tail, so they started calling it that, and the term stuck. Roger Bates, who was involved in the development of the computer mouse, recalls that they used to refer to the cursor as CAT, and therefore the term computer mouse made sense because the cat chases the mouse. However, there’s no clear origin of why we call it a computer mouse.
We use the word cursor to refer to the movable indicator on the computer screen, but its original meeting dates back much further than the invention of the computer. The word cursor is based on the Latin word currere, which means ‘to run.’ In medieval English, they used the word cursor to refer to a messenger. In the 16th century, it was also used to refer to the sliding part of a slide rule instrument.
This one is interesting! Nowadays, we often refer to the cloud when talking about virtually storing files, documents, and images. Clouds are also what we call the white and gray masses of condensation in the sky. Even the virtual cloud uses the image of a rain cloud as a symbol. But would you believe the original meaning went back to medieval times and wasn’t used to describe the atmospheric event in the skies? Back then, it was used to describe hills or mounds of earth or clay.
Throughout the years, the word code has had many different meanings. Aside from the 21st-century meaning of a set of computer instructions, it has also been used as the word for the trunk of a tree and also as a block of wood covered in wax for writing. This was before the 14th century when the meaning was changed to mean ‘book of laws’ or ‘set of laws.’
These days we use the word spam to refer to unwanted, repetitive, and annoying behaviors such as the numerous calls or emails from companies trying to sell you something. In the past, it was used as the word for cheap meat (primarily pork) byproducts. But it became synonymous with annoying repetitive actions thanks to Monty Python. The comedy show performed a sketch where a diner served spam in all of their dishes. Soon the characters started singing and shouting the word spam repeatedly to the point where it became very annoying. After this, the word started popping up in online chatrooms to signify something repetitive that you don’t want.
Language is an interesting concept, and sometimes the origin of a word or phrase is more interesting than the word itself. Who knows what words we’ll start using again in the future to refer to something that doesn’t even exist yet?