Most of us don't give much thought as to where the words that we use every day actually come from. When it comes to computing, many of them are terms that we are accustomed to using in our day to day lives. However, their meanings can often be very different. Here are five tech words that used to have very different meanings.
Web browsers are what we use to navigate the internet. The name, unsurprisingly, comes from the verb to browse. Before the internet was a thing, all our browsing had to be done manually. From store shelves to libraries, people would visit places just to pass the time. While they were there, they would browse whatever was available.
That concept probably seems almost alien today, now that we always have smartphones around to keep us entertained. The term browser obviously predates the time at which we had the internet literally in our pocket, but even before that people would stay at home and browse the internet where they would previously have gone out and browsed a shop.
At even earlier points of human history, browsing would have been done outside in nature. People would have gone out to the local area, just taking in the sights on offer.
In fact, the root of the word browse from which the term browser is derived is the French brouts. Until the nineteenth century, the word browse was applied to foragers and wasn't used in any other context. However, during the 19th century, people began to use the term to refer to other types of wandering and searching. From here, it evolved into its modern usage.
The term proxy is one that we still use fairly regularly in its original context. The word is derived from an old Middle English word for procuration. A proxy is someone who acts in the interests of another person. For example, many countries in the world allow proxy voting. This is where those who are physically unable to vote themselves elect someone else to do it for them.
Proxies are usually acting at the behest of the person whom they are representing, but this is not always the case.
The way that we use the term proxy in the field of computing is quite similar. Here, a proxy is a server or computer that sits between you and the wider internet. Not all proxies are part of the public internet, but all operate on the same principles.
The purpose of a server is to process requests from users and then fulfill them. In other words, you tell a server what you want, and then the server gets it and brings it back to you. They mimic the role of a server offline. A server is someone who either serves food or drink or sometimes legal proceedings.
Servers at a bar or restaurant will take orders from customers, process them by finding what the customer wants or relaying the information to the chefs, and then bring it to them when the order is ready.
This is more or less exactly what an internet server does, just in digital form. The server provides services to other computers on the network by facilitating their access to files, shared peripherals, and a wider network.
The mouse is an interesting computing term because it is so obviously related to the way that a computer mouse resembles a real mouse. However, while the people that actually created the mouse are reasonably confident that this is the reason, none of them can specifically remember when they decided to name it as such. According to the device’s inventor, he doesn't know why we call it a mouse, and that no one can remember the exact origins anymore. They simply started calling it the mouse in the lab and never stopped.
Spam refers to junk email as well as messages that are deliberately sent repeatedly across the internet. Internet spam takes its name from a Monty Python sketch in which the diner’s menu contained spam with every dish. Before long all the characters are reduced to singing and shouting the word spam over and over again.
The sketch itself was referring to spam as the low quality but cheap meat available throughout Europe. This fits with the generally low quality of spam messages.
Once you understand where all these computing words originate from, they all make perfect sense. Most of the terms we commonly use in computing are derived from everyday words in order to ensure that the subject remains accessible. These are just some of the words whose meaning has shifted with time.