Everyone has a computer now. We need certain vocabulary to describe what to do with them. We use plenty of computer words and phrases that once had nothing to do with computers. Including even “computer.”
The ENIAC, introduced in 1946 was the first computer, right?
Only if you mean electronic computer. The ENIAC computed. That is, it determined the answer to numerical problems. People have been doing that since the invention of arithmetic. “Computer” first meant a person who computed.
In 1731, for example, an Edinburgh newspaper told young women to be aware of their husband’s income “and be so good a Computer as to keep within it.” As recently as the 1970s, corporations (including government departments) offered jobs as computers.
It can take hours for a person to make a complex computation by hand. And we all know how easy it is to make a mistake and how hard it is to find it. So we invented machines. I don’t know if anyone ever called an abacus a computer, but people called other calculating machines computers long before anyone ever thought of the ENIAC.
I spend hours a day at my computer, surfing the web, processing words, and once in a while, I even use it to compute. So here are some computer words I have processed for your enjoyment.
Captain James Cook found Polynesians enjoying surf boards in Tahiti. His lieutenant first used “surfing” in the ship’s journal in 1779.
The Beach Boys recorded “Surfin’ USA” in 1963. Soon after, journalists used “surfing” to describe activities that had nothing to do with surf boards, or even the surf. I have seen van surfing, train surfing, channel surfing. So when the Internet became available to the public, someone posted about “surfing the Internet with Gopher,” (a program that predates the World Wide Web) in 1992.
Code, meaning a body of law, entered the English language from French in the fourteenth century. At first, it referred to specific sets of Roman law, such as Justinian’s code. Four hundred years later it broadened to mean any set of laws, then any set of rules, such as “code of honor.”
The British military began to use the word in a completely different sense in the nineteenth century. It developed a system of words with arbitrary meanings in order to communicate in secret. No one knew the meaning of the message unless they knew the code behind it.
Morse code substituted a combination of short and long sounds for letters of the alphabet to transmit messages along wires. So when computer programmers invented ways to tell a computer where to go and how to get there, what else could they call them but code?
And now it’s a verb.
In computerese, a dashboard is a user interface that organizes and presents information in a way that’s easy to see. The word comes from the dashboard of a car. That’s dash plus board. What does that have to do with any part of a car?
Think of a car as a horseless carriage. Horse drawn carriages had a wooden barrier in front of them to keep dirt that the horse “dashed up” from spattering the driver.
With a typewriter (remember typewriters?) the mechanism that contained all the typefaces was called the carriage. When you pressed a key on a manual typewriter, the entire mechanism moved a space to the right.
At the end of the line, you had to reach up and use a lever to push the carriage back to its starting position (and advance the paper one line-space).
Electric typewriters replaced the lever with a button.
Your computer doesn’t have any moving parts, so it doesn’t have anything that can go back where it came from. But it still has a return button, anyway.
This phrase isn’t really that obsolete. Car radios and boom boxes still have presets for changing stations. In early car radios, you would push the button in, and whatever button was in before would pop back out.
In the same way, those little circles allow one and only one choice. Click on one, and a dot fills it in. Click another, the dot moves. Except now, it doesn’t change what you’re listening to.
When you send an email, you have the option of sending it to someone else by clicking on “cc,” short for carbon copy. Or, if you don’t want the original recipient to know who else is seeing the message, or “bcc” for blind carbon copy.
Once upon a time, people commonly needed carbon paper to make exact copies of a document. They put it between two or more sheets of paper. It would transfer whatever they wrote or typed on the top sheet to the one(s) underneath. When you use “cc” for email, you can’t get your fingers dirty.
Think of someone to email this post to. Think of someone else for the “cc.”