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10 Origins of Common Internet Terms

Tim Hoff . . . Comments

This list looks at the origins of ten computer related words. The entries presented here are not necessarily etymological, but, rather, they attempt to trace the words back to their creators or first use in the computing world. I tried to include words that were common enough to be recognizable, so there is a mix of technical and colloquial terms. If there are any you feel I have overlooked, or any about which I am mistaken, please share your thoughts in the comments! So here, for your enjoyment, and in no particular order, are the origins of ten computer words.




I am listing this item first because of its dubious origins. First, an explanation of HTTP cookies. Cookies are used to save a user’s information and relay this information between a website and a browser. This is used to authenticate a user, provide easier access to password controlled sites, or save various preferences of the user. The reason the word cookie is used seems to come from a comparison to fortune cookies – the dessert common from fast-food Chinese inside which there is a slip of paper with a fortune. Early internet programmers must have been overwhelmed by the similarities of a program that saves information within its code and the treats that save fortunes within their cookie walls. Incidentally, those delicious looking cookies above are bacon and chocolate chip cookies with maple glaze [recipe].




I have decided to combine these since they are not really computer terms so much as they are just companies, albeit computer companies. Remember Hotmail? One of the first widely available email programs, Hotmail’s name comes from co-founder Sabeer Bhatia. When trying to decide on a name for his new service, he eventually settled on Hotmail because it contained the letters HTML, which is a foundational language for writing web pages. In fact, the service’s name was originally notated “HoTMaiL,” in case users had missed the nod to the language at first.

Google’s origin is not really that surprising. The name came forward as a boast about how much information the new search engine would be able to index and provide. Google is a misspelling of “googol,” which is a number notated by a 1 followed by 100 zeros. When you consider the earlier name of the engine, “Backrub,” Google seems like a much better choice.

Speaking of Google – if you have a Google+ account, feel free to add Listverse (via Jamie Frater until business accounts are launched) to one of your circles – we always re-circle those who add us. If you don’t have an account and want one, you can go here to get a free invite. There are only 100 left so get in quick.




This may be the most well known word because of its interesting story. While Grace Hopper, a pioneer of computer programming, was working on the Harvard Mark II, she traced the cause of a glitch in the computer to an actual moth trapped in a relay. The moth she found can still be seen on display in the Smithsonian Museum. As some of you may be desperate to point out, this was not actually the first use of the term “bug” to describe a malfunctioning system. Thomas Edison, for example, used the word in his notebooks. However, since Admiral Hopper brought the word into the world of computers as we know it today, this lister gives credit to her.




A bit is a basic building block of computing. When developing the earliest computer languages, binary emerged as the simplest and most effective language to operate computers. A bit is simply a contraction of the words “binary digit.” This explanation has also been given to the word “byte,” which refers to multiple units of information, most commonly eight. However, since “byte”, itself, emerged from and is a derivation of “bit,” this lister thought bit deserved the focus.




As you may or may not know, a wiki on the internet is a group of interconnected sites that is built from user interaction. Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Dramatica and Metapedia are all examples of this “wiki” model. The origin of the name itself is quite simple. In Hawaiian, “wiki wiki” means “quick.” Creator Ward Cunningham decided that a “wiki” online would be a quick, easy way to access and manipulate multiple sites and information.




Famous for being part of a favorite method of attack of hacker groups (or “hackivists,” depending on where you fall on the issue) such as Anonymous, pings are a common method of DDoS attacks. However, they were first used simply to test the reachability of a host or IP, by sending out a message and measuring its round-trip time. As some of our sharper readers might have noticed, this is similar to the function of sonar with the name, “ping,” mimicking the sound of a functioning sonar system, and in fact, that was the inspiration for creator Mike Muuss during the invention of pings. As is common with computer terms, a backronym was provided: “Packet InterNet Groper.” As is also common with internet terms, the backronym was a bit forced.



Wall Of Fire Art By Dan Dos Santos

A firewall is a device that protects networks from unauthorized access or manipulation. IRL (in real life, for you non-nerds out there), firewalls are structures that are built to prevent the spread of, you guessed it, fires or similarly destructive forces. In the computer world, they are not much different. Instead of fires however, firewalls protect against viruses, hackers and worms (worms are similar to viruses, but they do not need to attach themselves to existing data and are therefore much more prone to spreading throughout a network of computers… similar to the way a fire spreads, see?).




A computer virus is very similar to a biological virus. Both insert their own code into normally functioning systems in order to disrupt the system and reproduce themselves. Academically, the word virus was used as a computer term in 1984, by Fred Cohen, in his paper “Experiments with Computer Viruses.” However, before the publication of this paper, the word had been used by science-fiction writer David Gerrold in the 1970s (in which a computer program called VIRUS enters a computer and *spoiler* is eventually defeated by a program called ANTIBODY…no one said he was a good science fiction writer), and also, the word appeared in an X-Men comic published, in 1982.



Screen Shot 2011-08-06 At 13.38.28

Spam is awful. Both in its computer form and in its rubbery, pink form. The two words have more in common than you might think though. The computer spam actually derives its name from a Monty Python sketch set in a café with an entirely Spam-centric menu. In typical Monty Python fashion, the characters (including a chorus of Vikings) break out into a song consisting almost entirely of the word “spam,” thus “spamming” the dialogue. While the sketch was a commentary on the influx of commercially available canned meats (from the US…sorry) during a period of desperate agricultural rebound, the word made its way into the computer world as the annoying and excessive influx of unwanted mail or advertisements. In the 1980s, online advertising companies attempted to acronym the word as “Sales Promotion And Marketing,” but as you are no doubt aware, the more critical definition given to us by Monty Python survived.



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While the etymology of this word might seem relatively straight forward, it gets a little more complicated that simply equating ugly, annoying monsters online to the ugly, annoying monsters of Norse mythology. That is undoubtedly a part of it, but in addition to, and more important than, the nominative form of the word, the verb “to troll” refers to a fishing technique in which bait is slowly dragged behind a boat to hook unwary fish. Obviously, this is similar to the way an internet troll will feed out “bait” for other users to react to, and then reel them in with further inflammatory or offensive remarks. An additional comparison to the trolls of fairy tales can be made when you consider the troll of the story, “TheThree Billy Goats Gruff.” The way internet trolls take over public space for their own enjoyment and use seems very similar to the unfair ownership claimed by the bridge troll of the story.

However, trolling on the internet was not always considered a bad thing. According to Wikipedia, “the most likely derivation of the word troll can be found in the phrase “trolling for newbies”, popularized in the early 1990s, in the Usenet group, alt.folklore.urban (AFU).” On this site, veteran users would toss out an inside joke or exhausted topic. Newcomers would respond earnestly, not having the experience to let them know not to respond, and they would then be revealed to be newbies, or n00bs, if we’re using modern terminology. These noob-hunts, however (the French verb “troller” is a hunting term, as well), while potentially embarrassing to the victims, were often light-hearted and nowhere near the damaging levels that modern trolling can reach.

  • Batman


  • Rikarudo

    First commet !! HHAHAHAHAHHAHA

    • Rikarudo

      [email protected] U BATMAN !!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

      • hercules321

        Lol!! Better luck next time! :)

      • LOL!

        Haven’t you noticed that EVERY time someone posts a “First!” comment, it automatically slips to second or third?

        ~sheesh~ don’t they teach any sort of critical thinking in the schools any longer?

    • Welcome to item 1 :)

      • Canuovea

        What’s wrong JFrater?

        Clearly Rikarudo saw his first comet in the sky today and felt like sharing his joy. This joy so excited him that his normally perfect grammar skills slipped and he added an extra “m” to “comet.”

        Then the batman signal, menace that it is, turned on and the light pollution prevented him from seeing the rest of the comet’s flight. Enraged, Rikarudo felt a powerful need to share his frustration with us.

        I believe he deserves our heartfelt sympathy, as I am sure we all have suffered the similar pain of having a celestial object dashed from the sky by batman!

  • Look everyone! Spam ^!

  • Yessenia

    didn’t know most of these. nice list.

  • Surya

    What about seed, peer and leech? (These terms are associated with bit torrent applications.)

    • Leech: like a leech they suck you dry

      Peer: “A person of the same age, status, or ability as another specified person.” – peer pressure

      Seed: plant a seed and it grows and grows – just like torrent seeds :)

      • Amber

        Hahaham bice one Jamie.

        • EnEightyFive

          Uh… I mean Nice one Jamie!

          • fendabenda

            Freudian slip? Although I don’t know what you might want to do with bice… paint a picture?

          • Haha thanks – your error (and fendabenda’s comment) made me look up bice. You taught me something today!

          • sandos

            But you’ll forget the definition because you googled it. ;)

    • AndyV

      Can add DMZ (De Militarized Zone) to this list..

  • Jon

    This list was amazingly mind blowing and enlightening. Especially the troll one. Hehehe

  • Johan

    Good to see some Norse mythology contributing to the modern world of computers and intergalactic space travel :) A shame though that trolls have become some annoying kids sitting at a computer! Back when I was young, a troll was a creature that used to switch a human child with its own so that the troll child would grow up in a human family. I don’t remember what happened to the human child though, eaten perhaps.

    • Quite! Case in point being the first two comments on this list :)

  • MrTozz

    Good list!

  • Gekke Henk

    Cookies and Milk!!
    Cookies and Milk!!
    Anyone want Cookies and Milk?!?!
    Cookies and Milk!!

  • OmegaMan

    Good list. :)

  • BlueFox94

    But… I like Spam ¥__¥

  • Interesting list, didn’t know most of them, while some were easy enough to figure out (Virus/Firewall) still interesting to see the reasons behind them.

  • I also thought firewall came from the automotive term firewall, which is a wall between the engine bay and the passenger compartment. A wall to keep fire/heat out rather than an actual wall of fire. The computing concept is the same, a “wall” to keep the user/data safe from attacks.

    • I came across that when I was reading about them. The automotive term came from this original firewall as well. I figured the spreading of a virus or anything in a computer is more similar to a wildfire than it is to automotive functions, so I went with that definition. Also, it’s not a wall made of fire, it’s a wall built to contain a fire. The picture is a bit misleading :)

      • Sorry about that – I liked the picture :)

        • Timothyjames

          Ha, I like it too, no worries.

    • Ryan

      Ditto for me.

  • Darren

    Bit, Bug, Virus – what planet are you from? These terms were around long long before the Internet. Are you saying the Internet came first before the bit?

    • blitz

      obious troll is obious.

      • Gekke Henk

        Facepalm -_-‘

        • blitz


  • Armadillotron

    God, I hate Computer Viruses.. Though there not always called computer Viruses. There called Trojans. If a wooden Horse, yes, a wooden Horse, or a guy in an Ancient Greek suit of armour appears, DO NOT click on it. Otherwise it`ll wreck your computer. still, that symbol above, that`s a Biological Warfare symbol.

    • Woyzeck


  • Mtgplayer

    The picture for “Firewall” is the artwork for the Magic: The Gathering card “Wall of Flame”. I love me some mtg.

  • jeffthemaori

    God, I hate you batmam! you walk aroung oib your undies ande wearing a cape and I knpow yho have done stuff to robin!! by the way, did you sewe the all blacks [aly? BORING!!

    • Poopface

      You mad bro? You suck.

    • jeffthemaori

      Sorry, I had had quite a bit to drink when I typed this.

  • hey did someone mention troll? khe khe khe khe

    • GEORGE

      Elf’Good to have you back LISTVERSE wouldn’t be what if is without you dude

  • hercules321

    This is probably the only list in which TROLLS are going to be

    Good list..

  • Auburn Tiger

    I like the part where I knew a lot of these because I have friends that spout this sort of trivia. Anyway, I buy more into the fishing interpretation of trolling as it’s origins, but the mythical troll seems to be it’s currently accepted secondary meaning (i.e. “Don’t feed the troll.”).

  • Ryan

    What about phishing? I have an idea but I’d like to know when it was established.

    • That would have been a good one to include. The word is from the early days of the internet. It works off the same principle as the troll one; “phishing” is obviously a homonym of “fishing,” which is was scammers called their attempts to lure out information from internet users. The reason it’s spelled the way it is is because it’s a portmanteau of “phone” and “fishing,” since a lot of the early scamming was done over the phone instead of actually online. From what I can find, the earliest reference to it was in 1996 from a hacker group called alt.2600.

      • Gabriel

        Nice explanation.

  • BD

    Slice spam and fry it like bacon, then make an SLT (instead of BLT).

    Of course, there’s always Spam Musubi (popular in Hawaii).

    Just what ever you do, don’t eat it straight out of the damned can!

  • Boss Hogg

    Ok, you revisionists.

    Cookie came from an MIT hack using the Multics Operating System (father of Unix), that would take over another user’s time-share login and would not cede control until you responded ‘yes’ to its ‘me want cookie’ demand.

    Surfing the net is a play on the last name of one of the originators of the TCP/IP protocol, namely Vinton Cerf.



  • The Mick

    byte = by eight (which is how many bits in a byte)

    phishing: maybe look up phreaking (early hacking technique of phone lines)

    • Maggot

      “Phucked” is when you get your phone bill and see that your kid sent 5 million texts that month after you had naïvely thought that you didn’t need to sign up for the unlimited texting plan.

      • Actually, “Phucked” is the reasoning that went into getting your kid a cell with texting ability! ;-)

      • Magnumto

        Maggot, it’s been a long time since I laughed out loud so spontaneously – THANKS for that comment!

    • That “by eight” business is a myth. 8 bits per byte was never a rule, especially in early computers when the term was first used. While 8-bit is common now, it wasn’t then. More probable is the natural sounding pluralization of bit to “bite” with a spelling change to avoid confusion. But, no one seems to know where exactly “byte” came from, so I could be wrong.

      • The Mick

        after looking it up, you’re correct, byte did originate so as not to be confused with bit. it was coined by Dr. Werner Buchholz in July 1956, but it wasn’t a pluralization though.
        when i started in computers in 1982, i was taught that it meant ‘by eight’ , clearly the ‘myth’ does go back some time !!!
        i love(and love to hate) Wikipedia…

        btw maggot, phunniest phucking thing i have read here for a long while.

  • Lifeschool

    Quite a simple list but worth the read nevertheless. Interesting to read about the ‘bug’ which popularised the term ;)

    Other Terms: (humor implied)

    ADSL – Stands for ‘A Dead-Slow Landline’ (or is it just me)

    AOL – From Northern English swearing: ‘Ay Oh ‘ell!’

    Apple – Stolen from the name of The Beatles production company.

    ASCII – Named after the popular comedian Arthur Askey

    Avatar – Refers to Lord Vishnu and other Supreme Hindu gods.

    Back up – From the term “When my computer crashes, it really gets by back up!”

    Bitmap – A small part of a larger map.

    Bluetooth – A side effect of drinking too much Ribena.

    Boot Up – Describes the art of kicking the machine until it works.

    Broadband – From the time when computers were powered by rubber bands and string.

    Browser – Also see ‘voyeur’; means “A person who likes watching porn.”

    Bulletin Board – The wood used as a target on an army test firing range.

    Cache – Mispelling of “Cash”.

    Compression – Used to resuscitate those who suffer a cardiac arrest.

    Console – From the term “To console someone who who is sad or grieving; perhaps because they thought they bought a real computer, but in reality they bought an upgraded pocket calculator with knobs on.”

    Crash – The sound a computer makes as you throw it out of a window.

    DOS – Derived from “Developed Or Stolen?” – a question often asked of Bill Gates.

    Encryption – The job of placing a dead body inside a crypt.

    Firewire – The detonation cord used to ignite dynamite.

    Flash – A person who likes to show their private parts.

    IBM – An acronym of “Inspired By Money”.

    Internet – A fishing term used to describe scooping a fish from a river.

    iTunes – Like real tunes but with invisible packaging.

    Javascript – The written text used on the island of Java.

    Joystick – A male will grab the Joystick with both hands and waggle it up and down to make himself happy, See Browser.

    Kilobyte – The art of placing one kilograms worth of food on a plate and consuming it in just one mouthful.

    Laptop – The surface area on which a lap dancer dances.

    LOL – A warning; acronym from the term “Lunatic On-Line”.

    Macintosh (MAC) – A raincoat made from rubberised or rubber laminated material.

    MegaHertz (MHz) – The complaint of a person trapped in a head-lock.

    Monitor – See Browser.

    Mouse – Taken from the time when mice liked to live inside computers.

    Online – A term used to describe the drying process of laundry.

    Pentium – A garden situated on the roof of a building.

    Pixelated – 1. A happy pixie, 2. Anything vaguely pixie related.

    Podcast – Throwing away the pea cases after you’ve eaten all the peas.

    Pop-up – See Browser.

    Powerpoint – To indicate precicely with the index finger.

    Quicktime – The period of the day revolving around getting the kids to school on time., before rushing off to work.

    RAM – Taken from the name of a male sheep.

    Reboot – See Boot Up.

    ROM – Short for ‘Romantic’.

    Safe Mode – S.exual intercourse using some form of protection.

    Screensaver – A person who collects and catalogues fly screens.

    Scroll-bar – A wooden stake around which a scroll is wrapped.

    Security Suite – The place where the airport police rest and recuperate.

    Server – A person who destributes food or other products.

    Shoot-’em-up – A bank raid gone wrong.

    Spreadsheet – The first step when making up the bed.

    Usenet – Used as an instruction whilst fishing. See Internet.

    Webmaster – A huge spider native to South America.

    Webspace – The holes in between the threads of a spiders web.

    WIKI – The name of a small furry creature in Return of the Jedi.

    Windows – The openings through which you throw a computer. See Crash.

    Write-protected – A pen or marker pen with the cap left on.

    Zip – The line used by the military to slide from a high place to a low one.

    And on that note…

    • Lifeschool! You can’t seriously tell me that you still use a LANDLINE????!!!!

      • Or am I just spoiled because I’ve had wi-fi so long?

    • Canuovea

      You forgot:

      Macintosh (MAC) – 1. A raincoat made from rubberised or rubber laminated material.

      2. A type of apple.

    • Simone

      Amazing compilation! :-) I learnt a lot.

  • oouchan

    Short and to the point of each common term. Can see we need troll repellent around here…or Raid.

    Cute list.

  • Maggot

    Mmmmm, bacon. Actually the entry’s linked recipe does not quite match the cookies that are depicted. That recipe calls for mixing maple syrup and crumbled bacon into the cookie dough. In the pic, it is a maple-cinnamon glaze. Here’s the recipe for that:

    • hercules321

      Your attention to detail is very impressive!

      • Auburn Tiger

        Lol. This is nothing new.

    • Thanks Maggot – I should have checked more closely – I presumed they were all copies of the same recipe which has been floating about the net for a while now.

  • inconspicuousdetective

    wait…wait…cleaver thought coming…wait for it…AH HA! nope. nope, i got nothin’.

  • Interesting list. Oddly, I had read the information about “bugs”, #8, in a History of the achievements of women usually attributed to men…in this case it was the first “computer” (a sort of

    forward-thinking punch-card reader). Anyway, the story of Grace Hopper was included in the History.

    A number of years ago my then dying computer was acting very “buggy” and when I replaced that machine with a new one my son, a computer language writer, sent me the same picture as in #8. I now have it posted to the one of the windows in my workroom above an MRI scan of my brain and the legend, “This brain at work”…sometimes I wonder about the truth of that sign!

    • Yeah, if you able to find more material on her, read up. She is a very impressive woman. Scratch that: she’s a very impressive person in general!


    Fantastic list I am just wondering why after allthis time this kind of list has not
    been presented previously;well a revolution in internet technology speaks for
    it’s self ever since the introduction of WINDOWS operating system; we have
    seen a great change through the years i.e from the the floppy disc to:who knows
    may be “cloud computing” is the future for us though Tech companies will have
    to invest millions for it to be feasable financially KUDOS TIM !!!


    Link this up on FB !

  • Jimmy Johnson

    I thought ‘ping’ was the name of a golf club brand for the sound the club head makes when it hits the ball.

  • anthony

    ive heard cookies are so called because of an analogy that using a cookie-cutter to make cookies will save you time, kind of in the same way internet cookies save you time by not having to re-store information something along those lines

  • jai

    My stepdad worked with Mike Muuss before Mike’s unfortunate death in 2000. Mike’s original webpage is still maintained by ARL (Army Research Labs).

  • MeDan

    In one of my earliest computer classes, I was told that “bit” stands for something like “binary integer term.” ???

    One of the early internet creators was Ted Codd. Any possibility that had anything to do with the term “phish?”

    When I worked as a phone salesman (I called people at dinner time and tried to sell them tickets to country music concerts or whatever), we called ourselves “phrats,” short for phone rats. I’ve never heard it anywhere else, so I guess that was just a local term. I wish that had caught on…

  • Freddie

    I always thought that cookies came from Hansel & Gretel, u know, leave behind a trail of (cookie) crumbs so that u go back to the place u came from, ie, remember websites and passwords and form data. I am quite disappointed that I was wrong.

    • Based on the lack of actual evidence to the contrary, you could very well be right!

    • fendabenda

      Although Hansel and Gretel miserably failed in that plan… because birds ate their cookie crumbs. :) Or maybe trolls ate them

      • LOL WUT?

        Now I’m confused. Aren’t cookies named after Dagwood Bumstead’s daughter?

  • chichirica

    I love spam; the pink rubbery form, that is.

  • I genuinely thought spam was a contraction (or portmanteau?) of Stupid Pointless Annoying Message.

  • heed

    the virus definition is wrong…it refers to the fact bacteria used to grow in valves in very old computers

  • Chris

    Isn’t WIKI an acronym for “What I Know Is” ??

  • Both interesting and amusing. Good read! :-D

  • jordan

    spam is not awful, its fucking delicous

  • Gilbert

    The word bit comes from Binary Integer

  • Simone

    Omg, these comments are hilarious! XD

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  • Bchara

    Blue tooth: it comes from harald blue tooth, the scandinavian king, and the symbol of bluetooth is actually a nordic ruins symbol.

  • NJG

    Was working with a friend who also worked with Vindt Cerf a long time ago. He said that the origin of ‘surfing’ the net was actually ‘cerfing’ the net.

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