The origins of high-tech's made-up lingo

From blog, byte and browser to software, wiki and World Wide Web

Technology we take for granted today was new not so long ago, and somebody had to name it. Though sometimes it's hard to pin down exactly who deserves credit -- or blame -- here's a shot a some of the more familiar ones.

BLOG: Short for "weblog," the word is traced to Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom Web site in 1997 in which he began "logging the Web" by collecting information he came across. Peter Merholz is credited with contributing to use of the term in 1999 in his weblog by stating, "I've decided to pronounce the word 'weblog' as 'wee-blog. Or 'blog' for short."

BYTE: A measurement of information storage coined in 1956 by Werner Buchholz during the design phase of the IBM Stretch computer to describe how much data a computing machine might "bite," with the spelling changed so not to be confused with "bit." (See computer history of IBM Stretch.)

BROWSER: Often called the "Father of the Web," Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 invented software he called "WorldWideWeb." But Berners-Lee says the term "browser" predates the Web as there were hypermedia browsers. (See below, WORLD WIDE WEB and HYPERTEXT)

CELL PHONE: AT&T Bell Labs engineer William Rae Young is credited with suggesting the hexagonal cell concept for a cellular mobile phone. Young's technical work was referenced in an internal document written by co-worker Douglas H. Ring in 1947 on how to build a wide-area cellular service. The first mobile telephone call had been made from a car in St. Louis on June 17, 1946, but it was far from what we think of as a portable handset today. The equipment weighed 80 lbs, and the AT&T service, basically a massive party line, cost $30 per month plus 30 to 40 cents per local call. But Bell Labs was beaten to the punch for the first cellular phone call. That was made by Martin Cooper, then general manager of Motorola's Communications Systems Division, as he carried a hefty cell phone through New York City and placed a call to his rival, Joel Engels at Bell Labs, on April 3, 1973.

CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER: According to the Computer History Museum, the C-level position for IT is believed to have started in military and government, then becoming adopted by industry. William Synnott and William Gruber get credit for the term in 1981.

COMPUTER VIRUS: A phrase widely used today to describe self-replicating and invasive software, the invention of the phrase is credited to Leonard Max Adelman who suggested it to researcher Fred Cohen for his 1984 study "Experiments with Computer Viruses." Adelman is also co-inventor of the RSA (which stands for Rivest-Shamir-Adelman) cryptosystem.

FRACTAL: Coined by IBM researcher and mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in 1967 in a paper he published in Science, this word means a mathematical description of the kind of complex irregularities existing in nature, such as branching of trees. Fractal geometry, and the study of fractals, is part of mathematics, earth sciences, economics and computer graphics and animation.

HYPERTEXT: Ted Nelson coined the words "hypertext" and "hypermedia" in 1965 and worked with Andries van Dam on the development of the Hypertext Editing System in 1968 at Brown University. With its prefix "hyper" from the Greek for "beyond, over," hypertext is text on a computer that can take the user to other hypertext information through connections called hyperlinks. The first practicable use of hypertext is credited to Douglas Engelbart with the "oN-Line System" (NLS) developed at Stanford Research Center in the 1960's. Engelbart is also co-inventor with Bill English of the computer mouse.

INTERNET: According to the Computer History Museum, the term used in the context of TCP/IP networking was most likely introduced in IETF RFC675, "Specification of Internet Transmission Protocol program" by Vint Cerf, Yogen Dalal and Carl Sunshine, which was published in 1974.

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Ellen Messmer

Network World
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