List of computer term etymologies

This is a list of the origins of computer-related terms. It relates to both computer hardware and computer software.

Names of many computer terms, especially computer applications, often relate to the function they perform, e.g., compiler is an application that compiles programming language code into the computer's machine language. There are other terms however whose history would indicate that it had less to do with the functionality, and hence are of etymological value. This article lists such terms.

For a list of the origins of names of computer companies see List of company name etymologies. Also see : etymology

It got its name because its founders got started by applying patches to code written for NCSA's httpd daemon. The result was 'A PAtCHy' server -- thus, the name Apache.

C++ creator Bjarne Stroustrup called his new language "C with Classes" and then "new C". Because of which the original C began to be called "old C" which was considered insulting to the C community. At this time Rick Mascitti suggested the name C++ as a successor to C. In C the '++' operator increments the value of the variable it is appended to, thus C++ would increment the value of C.

  • Daemon - a process in an operating system that runs in the background.
Acronym for Disk And Execution MONitor. Alternatively, something that works magically without anyone being much aware of it (with an unusual spelling to avoid confusion with the religious idea). Still less likely, McKusick's drawing of an imp (ie, the BDS mascot) was so good people decided to stick with the concept.

Gnu is also a species of African antelope. Founder of the GNU project Richard Stallman liked the name because of the humour associated with its pronuniciation and was also influenced by the children's song The Gnu Song which is a song sung by a gnu. Also it fitted into the recursive acronym culture with "GNU's Not Unix".

  • Google - search engine on the web.
The name started as a jokey boast about the amount of information the search-engine would be able to search. It was originally named 'Googol', a word for the number represented by 1 followed by 100 zeros. The word was originally invented by a mathematician's son during a discussion of large numbers and exponential notation. After founders - Stanford grad students Sergey Brin and Larry Page presented their project to an angel investor, they received a cheque made out to 'Google' !

Founder Jack Smith got the idea of accessing e-mail via the web from a computer anywhere in the world. When Sabeer Bhatia came up with the business plan for the mail service, he tried all kinds of names ending in 'mail' and finally settled for hotmail as it included the letters "html" - the markup language used to write web pages. It was initially referred to as HoTMaiL with selective upper casing.

Jakarta was the name of the conference room at Sun where most of the meetings between SUN and Apache took place. It is certainly accidental (and a shocking coincidence) that Jakarta is a large city on the island of Java.

  • Java - It was originally called Oak by Java-creator James Gosling, from the tree that stood outside his window. The programming team at Sun had to look for a substitute as there was another language with the same name. Java was selected from a list of suggestions. Being programmers, they drank much coffee and the word is an casual, alternative name for that beverage.

  • Linux - the kernel of the GNU/Linux operating system.
Linux creator Linus Torvalds originally used the Minix operating system on his computer, didn't like it, liked MS-DOS less, and started a project to develop a better operating system than either. Hence the working name was Linux (Linus' Minix). He thought the name to be too egotistical and planned to name it Freax(free + freak + x). His friend Ari Lemmke encouraged Linus to upload it to a network so it could be easily downloaded. Ari gave Linus a directory called linux on his FTP server, as he did not like the name Freax.

Lotus founder Mitch Kapor got the name for his company from 'The Lotus Position' or 'Padmasana'. Kapor used to be a teacher of Transcendental Meditation technique as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

When Marc Andreesen, founder of Netscape, created a browser to replace the Mosaic browser, it was internally named Mozilla (Mosaic-Killer, Godzilla). When the Navigator source code was Open Sourced, the internal name was continued externally.

Novell, Inc. was originally Novell Data Systems co-founded by George Canova. The name was suggested by George's wife who mistakenly thought that "Novell" meant "new" in French.

Larry Ellison and Bob Oats were working on a consulting project for the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). The code name for the project was called Oracle (the CIA saw this as the system to give answers to all questions or some such). The project was designed to use the newly written SQL database language from IBM. The project eventually was terminated but Larry and Bob decided to finish what they started and bring it to the world. They kept the name Oracle and created the RDBMS engine. Company founder Marc Ewing was given the Cornell lacrosse team cap (with red and white stripes) while at college by his grandfather. People would turn to him to solve their problems, and he was referred to as 'that guy in the red hat'. He lost the cap and had to search for it desperately. The manual of the beta version of Red Hat Linux had an appeal to readers to return his Red Hat if found by anyone!
  • Samba software - a free implementation of Microsoft's networking protocol. The name samba comes from inserting two vowels into the name of the standard protocol that Microsoft Windows network file system use, called SMB (Server Message Block).
  • SCO UNIX - a UNIX variant from SCO.
The company was called Santa Cruz Operation as its office was in Santa Cruz, California.

Tomcat was the code-name for the JSDK 2.1 project inside Sun. Tomcat started off as a servlet specification implementation by James Duncan Davidson who was a software architect at Sun. Davidson had initially hoped that the project would be open-sourced, and since most open-source projects had O'Reilly books on them with an animal on the cover, he wanted to name the project after an animal. He came up with Tomcat since he reasoned the animal represented something that could take care of and fend for itself.

When Bell Labs pulled out of MULTICS (MULTiplexed Information and Computing System), which was originally a joint Bell Labs/GE/MIT project, Ken Thompson of Bell Labs, soon joined by Dennis Ritchie, wrote a simpler version of the operating system. They needed the OS to run the game Space War which had been compiled under MULTICS. The new OS was called UNICS - UNIplexed operating and Computing System by Brian Kernighan. An alternative spelling was Eunuchs, it being a sort of 'reduced' MULTICS. It was later shortened to UNIX.

The word was invented by Jonathan Swift and used in his book Gulliver's Travels. It represents a person who is repulsive in appearance and action and is barely human. Yahoo! founders Jerry Yang and David Filo selected the name because they considered themselves yahoos. However, Yahoo! today claims a sort of backformed acronym -- Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.

copyright 2004