Computing Etymologies

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From web+blog → weblog → blog. See Weblog

Peter Merholz is credited with coining this term, he first uses it in a blog post on May 28, 1999., and announces the new word in a sidebar published sometime in April:

I’ve decided to pronounce the word “weblog” as wee’- blog. Or “blog” for short.



From Blog.

At the time everyone said “weblog” and “weblogger” so picking up [Merholz’s] pronounciation, Evan Williams came up with the name “Blogger” for our product. When we set about to write the copy for the site, we used the word “blog” for every instance of “weblog.” There was no other service at the time that used that term. When we added hosting, we named it “Blogspot” because it was a spot for one’s blog. (Hourihan, 2008)



Broadcast comes from a farming technique regarding the sowing of seeds.

We see the first sense of “broadcast” in the radio / television sense (that is, a single electronic message recieved by many) in an article in The Electrician from 1898:

In other words, in order to obtain only one little erg of energy on the reveiving surface no less than 3.5x10^8 ergs, or 35 watt-seconds (joules) of energy, would have to be scattered broadcast from the center. (No Author Listed, 1898)

The idea of “broadcast” via multiple electronic messages shows up earlier, in 1886:

sent broadcast through the country by multiple telegraph. (Editorial Dept., 1886)

And multiple print messages even earlier, in 1877:

In the case of the estimates sent broadcast by the Department of Agriculture, in its latest annual report, the extent has been sadly underestimated.

The earliest printed form of “broadcast” is in a farming manual from 1744:

[…] for, when Oats are sown in the random or broadcast Way, there is no more Mold allowed their Roots than what the Harrows and Roll give them; (Ellis, 1744)


Note: I’m not sure the publisher on (Ellis, 1744) is correct.



mid-15c., brousen, “feed on buds, eat leaves or twigs from” trees or bushes, from Old French broster “to sprout, bud,” from brost “young shoot, twig, green food fit for cattle or deer,” probably from Proto-Germanic *brust- “bud, shoot,” from PIE *bhreus- “to swell, sprout” (see breast (n.)). It lost its -t in English perhaps on the mistaken notion that the letter was a past participle inflection. Figurative extension to “peruse” (books) is 1870s, American English. Related: Browsed; browsing.


Note: Would love a non-etymonline source.



There are many theories about how the word “cipher” may have come to mean “encoding”.

Source: Wikipedia: Cypher

Note: The paper Ibrahim A. Al-Kadi’s “Cryptography and Data Security: Cryptographic Properties of Arabic” may have more information, but I don’t have access.

Domain (Domain Name)

The concept specifically called a “Domain Name” was introduced to ARPANET in November 1983 in RFC882 (Mockapetris, 1983).

However, RFC799 in September 1981 introduced the idea of “Internet Name Domains” (Mills, 1981).




The New Latin adjective electricus, originally meaning ‘of amber’, was first used to refer to amber’s attractive properties by William Gilbert in his 1600 text De Magnete. The term came from the classical Latin electrum, amber, from the Greek ἤλεκτρον (elektron), amber.

Source: electric, adj. and n., Oxford English Dictionary, Draft Revision Mar. 2008 via Wikipedia



To better distribute microprogram code, IBM developed the diskette drive in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, when this storage medium became widely used, marketers must have found the sober name “diskette” too bland, and so coined “floppy” to jazz it up.


Note: would like to further explore this one.



The committee published an international standard vocabulary in 1966 (IFIP-ICC Vocabulary of Information Processing, North Holland Publishing, Amsterdam, 1968) that remains, with some modifications, an ISO/IEC standard ( […] In their original form, these definitions read as follows:

  • Data. A representation of facts or ideas in a formalized manner capable of being communicated or manipulated by some process.
  • Information. In automatic data processing the meaning that a human assigns to data by means of the known conventions used in its representation. These two clear and distinctive definitions conform reasonably with traditional usage. Contrast them with the corresponding definitions from The New International Webster’s Pocket Computer Dictionary of the English Language (Trident Press International, Naples, Fla., 1998, ISBN 1-888777-54-0):
  • Data. (sing. datum) Information, as that processed by a computer.
  • Information. Any data that can be stored, retrieved, and manipulated by a computer. These latter definitions are even murkier than the book’s title. Completely confused, they conflict with the words’ traditional usage. Although the worse dictionaries typically maul these definitions, the better dictionaries treat them almost as roughly. (Holmes, 2001)




From Inter + Net (Network). Inter from Old French entre- or Latin inter ‘between, among’ (Oxford). See Network.

Orignally called “Internetwork” in the 1974 paper “A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication” (Cerf &amp Kahn).

A competing term coined by Pouzin in his 1974 paper “A Proposal for Interconnecting Packet Switching Networks” was “catenet”, which was in use through the early 1980s (Postel, 1981).



The earliest occurrence of “Network” is in the 1560 Geneva Bible (Exodus xxvii 4) (Briggs, 2004).

See Briggs, 2004 for a thorough breakdown of the etymology. From that source:

According to the OED, the word is recorded in 1658 referring to reticulate structures in animals and plants. From 1839 it is used to refer to rivers and canals, and from 1869 to railways. In 1883 a distribution network of electrical cables is first referred to, and in 1914 a wireless broadcasting network.


Open Source

First used in regard to computing by Christine Peterson in 1998.

I am the originator of the term “open source software” and came up with it while executive director at Foresight Institute. (Peterson, 2018)

However, the term “open source” was not new:

This term had long been used in an “intelligence” (i.e., spying) context […] (Peterson, 2018)

The term was in use w.r.t intelligence as early as 1829:

but he perceived there was yet the open source of intelligence to be resorted to (and the only one perhaps through which truth was attainable), namely, the object himself. (Bernard, 1829)

Finally, the earliest usage of the term (with “open” as an adjective) found in Google Books is from a 1685 manual on how to “draw forth waters from betwixt the flesh and the skin”:

it flow’d forth in a plentifull Stream as from an open Source, till it was drawn from the whole Legg both above and beneath. (Basset & Crooke, 1685)


Note: Because of the nonstandard printing practices of 1685, the citation for (Basset & Crooke, 1685) may be incorrect. Someone else should take a look.



Middle English, from Anglo-French receivre, from Latin recipere, from re- + capere to take. [First usage of the] verb: 14th century. (Merriam-Webster)

Interestingly, Send comes from Germanic, while Receive comes from Anglo-French, but the two terms are often used adjacently.




Middle English, from Old English sendan. [First usage of the] verb: before the 12th century (Merriam-Webster)

Old English sendan “send, send forth; throw, impel,” from Proto-Germanic *sond- […], causative form of base *sinþan, denoting “go, journey” […], from PIE root *sent- “to head for, go” (Etymonline)

See Receive


Note: Would like a non-etymonline source.



The computing profession, for instance, uses the verb to sort to mean to order or to sequence. The dictionary defines sort as “to arrange according to sort, kind, or class”—a meaning too useful to lose, surely. This distortion has an historical foundation, however: When data processors kept data on punched cards, they used repetitive sorting—in the true sense of the word—to put a card file in any desired sequence. Thus, sequencing on a fivedigit ID number would take five passes of the card file through a sorter, moving from low-order digit to high-order digit. Unfortunately, when magnetic tape replaced punched cards, the term “sorting” assumed the meaning “sequencing,” even though the process no longer involved sorting, but rather progressive merging of subsequences. When using four tape drives, a tape “sort” would typically halve the number of subsequences with each merge pass, then stop when it arrived at a single sequence. (Holmes, 2001)



This etymology is contested. I found several references to it being coined by Mark McCahill in a 1992 usenet discussion called “Re: Size Limis for text files?” but that thread doesn’t actually seem to contain the words that McCahill is credited with!

[Gopher Inventor Mark] McCahill coined the term “surfing the internet.” “There is a lot to be said for … surfing the internet from anywhere that you can find a phone jack,” he wrote in February 1992. (Misa, 2013)

A verifiable reference to the term “Surfing the Internet” comes from a June 1992 article by Jean Armour Polly in the Wilson Library Bulletin called “Surfing the Internet. An Introduction.”

Polly’s title was inspired by the earlier term “Information Surfer”, which will be discussed later.

[Polly] found her answer on a library-mousepad that had a wave and a surfer as well as the title ‘Information Surfer’ pictured on it. (Hartmann, 2004)

There’s an earlier 1991 reference to “net-surfing” by Brendan Kehoe of the Widener Computer Services Department.

Here’s a question: how do other people deal with users that they think are doing no-nos around the net? One of our users had the habit of occasionally going net-surfing and doing the hit-and-run type of attempts (trying ‘guest’ usually), but I didn’t have any real proof–only through other people. (He tended to come on about 2 hours before I’d get up to go to work.) (Kehoe, 1991)

Interestingly, there seems to be an earlier evolution of the term as well.

An earlier version of the web surfing term as applied in the online context was the idea of ‘information surfing’. This expression was meant to describe a way of dealing with the beginning information overload [sic] (the ‘wave of information’ coming one’s way).

The surfer would be the one who has learned to use the information constructively rather than let it ‘roll over’ him/her (see Saffo, 1989). (Hartmann, 2004)

Hartmann points us to Saffo’s 1989 column “Information Surfing” in Personal Computing, which reads:

Still, I am an optimist when it comes to the future. If information is a wave about to engulf us, the solution is to become “information surfers” — individuals who thrive in a world of hyperabundant information. (Saffo, 1989/1999)

Saffo includes a note at the bottom of this article from ten years later in 1999:

When I submitted this column, I thought I had discovered an obscure new term, “information surfing”. Some years later, I happened across a passage by Marshall McLuhan in which he spoke of surfing data “like Duke Kahanamoku on a surfboard.” Nothing, it seems, is ever new! (Saffo, 1989/1999)

Marshall McLuhan is credited with coining the term “surf” in the electronic/digital context. From his 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy:

Heidegger surf-boards along on the electronic wave as triumphantly as Descartes rode the mechanical wave. (McLuhan)

As for the actual word “Surf”, the OED has:

Etymology: Probably a variant or alteration of suff n., perhaps after surge n. (OED, n.d.)

Which has the earliest usage for the noun listed in 1606, and the verb form from 1917, but this is incorrect: their quote says “To the beach for a surf and a sun bath.”, but the actual quote is “to the beach for a surf and sun bath”. (The ABC Pathfinder Railway Guide)

Note: This needs more research. The next OED list of the usage of the verb “surf” is for 1934 - C. Mackness Young Beachcombers 46: “Wish we had brought togs for a surf.” but I can’t find a copy online.

The first use of surfing on something other than water was in the April 1985 edition of Time magazine:

“Cars move slowly past the crowd, and when the passengers get restless they van surf (dance on roofs).” (No Source)

Note: I can’t get a copy of this to verify.

The first instance of “Surfing the Web” is by Robert Harper on Usenet’s bionet.announce on 1993-11-22 in the post BioBit No24 (Surfing the Web).



The word technology, which joined the Greek root, techne (an art or craft) with the suffix ology (a branch of learning), first entered the English language in the seventeenth century. At that time, in keeping with its etymology, a technology was a branch of learning, or discourse, or treatise concerned with the mechanic arts. As Eric Schatzberg has demonstrated in a seminal essay, the word then referred to a field of study, not an object of study. But the word, even in that now archaic sense, was a rarity in nineteenth-century America. By 1861, to be sure, it was accorded a somewhat greater prominence by the founders of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but they also were invoking the limited sense of the term to mean higher technical education. As for technology in the now familiar sense of the word — the mechanic arts collectively — it did not catch on in America until around 1900, when a few influential writers, notably Thorstein Veblen and Charles Beard, responding to German usage in the social sciences, accorded technology a pivotal role in shaping modern industrial society. But even then, the use of the word remained largely confined to academic and intellectual circles; it did not gain truly popular currency until the 1930s. (Marx)




Lemme see what I can do. Maybe after I post it, we could go trolling some more and see what happens. (Chan, 1992)

Pilots call the technique “Trolling for Migs” (Saar, 1972)



The Blog Herald cites the origins of the term weblog to G. Raikundalia & M. Rees, two lecturers from Bond University on the Gold Coast. The term was first used in a paper titled “Exploiting the World-Wide Web for Electronic Meeting Document Analysis and Management.” (Beal, 2014)


Interestingly the term “Weblog” is not featured on the remaining record of the paper, which is now hosted at the Charles Sturt University website, but is featured in its correct context in a Usenet post promoting the papers delivery at Bond posted on August 6, 1995. (Riley, 2005)

The usenet post in question, which Rees confirms is the first use:

We used the term WebLog in the title of our paper presented on 21 August 1995 at the QCHI’95 Symposium held at Bond and organised by Sandrine Balbo and myself. Sandrine sent the QCHI’95 notice to the news.announce.conferences group on Usenet on 6 August 1995. (Rees, 2012).


Popular use of the term Weblog as we know it today is from Jorn Barger of the Weblog Robot Wisdom ( in December 1997. (Beal, 2014)

An article in the Star-Telegram from 1999 (using “Web log”) writes:

One urban legend has it that the Netscape creator Marc Andreessen started the first Web log, and Barger offers a link to Andreessen’s 1993 Web musings. (Katz, 1999)

(Link to Andreessen’s 1993 blog).

Contrary to this urban legend:

Tim Berners-Lee, father of the World Wide Web, first posted a web page in 1992 at CERN that kept a list of all new web sites as they come online. (Riley, 2005)

However, despite inventing the format, neither Berners-Lee or Andreessen seem to have used the term “web log” or “weblog”.



Wiki wiki is the first Hawai’ian term I learned on my first visit to the islands. The airport counter agent directed me to take the wiki wiki bus between terminals. I said what? He explained that wiki wiki meant quick. I was to find the quick bus. I did pick up a book about the language before my return home. I learned many things from this but wiki wiki is the word that sticks the most. […] I thought “wiki wiki web” was more fun to say than “quick web”, no mater what pronunciation is used. The name “quick web” would have been appropriate for a system that makes web pages quickly. Microsoft’s “quick basic” was a precedent for such a name. I chose to call the technology WikiWikiWeb. I used exactly this spacing and capitalization because the technology would then recognize the term as a hyperlink. I consider WikiWikiWeb to be the proper name of the concept, of which Wiki or wiki is an abbreviation. (Cunningham, 2003)



One of the first utility services on the ARPANET:

[WHOIS] was probably one of our biggest servers. We stopped putting out the directory, which was essentially the network phonebook, and we put all that [information] under [WHOIS]. So you could say “Whois Jake Feinler,” and it would come back and give you my name, address, email address, affiliation on the net, that kind of thing.” Or you could say “Who is host such and such,” and it would tell you its host name, host address, who was the host administrator, that kind of thing. So we tried to design servers] for what we called episodic users. Somebody might use the NIC a lot or they might use it every six months. We wanted [our programs] to be something that you could just walk up [to], use, and walk away. You didn’t have to have a big learning curve. So most of our servers were along those lines.


World Wide Web

Berners-Lee and Cailliau proposed a HyperText project in November 1990 called WorldWideWeb (Berners-Lee & Cailliau, 1990).

The idea of calling this a “World-Wide” web may have come from earlier HyperText systems which defined multiple “webs” of information which could be searched:

They also propose a construct called a web to implement context-dependent link display. Every link belongs to one or more webs and is only visible when one of those webs is active. To view documents with the links that belong to a particular web, a user opens a web and then opens one or more of its documents. (Conklin, 1987).

This idea of a “web” of information goes further back, to at least Nelson’s 1972 Xanadu project, an earlier HyperText implementation (work started in 1960), which describes a “File Web&tm;”:

The File Web &tm; is a map indicating what (labelled) files are present in the system, and which are collaterated. (Nelson, 1974).

Note that although the work was published in 1974, Nelson includes a 1972 copyright on the “File Web” idea.