The true stories behind tech's strangest terms

You use words like "Bluetooth," "wiki" and "Wi-Fi" all the time, but do you know how those things actually got their names? You might be surprised to find out.

By , ITworld |  IT Management, bluetooth, nostalgia

While the imagery of a goblin-like cave monster seems awfully apt, there's actually more to the term than meets the eye. The word "troll," you see, has a rarely used alternate meaning -- as Merriam-Webster puts it: "to fish by trailing a lure or baited hook from a moving boat."

With that in mind, it's easy to see how the Web-centric meaning came to be. Of course, the added visual of a hideous hook-nosed beast certainly doesn't hurt.

Wiki

From Wikipedia to WikiLeaks, our world is chock-full of wiki. But aside from a fun way to verbalize the sound of a record scratch, what the wiki is a wiki?

For the answer, we need look no further than the wiki on "wiki" at Wikipedia (try saying that five times fast). As the "wiki" wiki explains it, a wiki is a site "powered by wiki software" that lets users "add, modify, or delete its content via a Web browser."

But where did "wiki" weawy owiginate? Er, sorry, really originate -- all these w-sounds are turning me into Elmer Fudd. Credit for the first wiki is commonly given to a guy named Ward Cunningham, who came up with a site called WikiWikiWeb in 1995.

Ward was wooed by the word wiki when he traveled to Hawaii. While there, he says, an airport employee told him to look for a "wiki wiki bus" that'd take him between terminals. The worker explained to him that "wiki wiki" meant "quick."

Ward went on to redefine "wiki" as "the simplest online database that could possibly work." His WikiWikiWeb site laid the groundwork for the wiki-style sites we know today, with community-based contributors and editors and an emphasis on internal cross-linking.

"Wikipedia would not be as successful as it is now had I named WikiWikiWeb 'electronic-encyclopedia,'" Ward theorizes.

At the very least, it would have been far less fun to say.

Ping

The word "ping" has blossomed out of Internet culture and come to represent a broader form of communication: "Ping me when you want to grab to lunch." "Ping me with your number." "Ping me when you figure out what 'ping' means."

Rest assured, though: Ping's roots reside in undeniably geeky soil.

Ping, in its current form, traces back to a Unix-based network administration tool created in the early 80s. The program sends a data packet to a network-connected computer and then measures how long it takes for the system to respond.

Ping's author, Mike Muuss -- a senior scientist at the U. S. Army Research Laboratory until his death in the year 2000 -- discussed Ping's etymology on his work-affiliated website.

"I named [Ping] after the sound that a sonar makes, inspired by the whole principle of echo-location," Muuss said. "In college, I'd done a lot of modeling of sonar and radar systems, so the 'Cyberspace' analogy seemed very apt."

Though some people associate Ping with the acronym "Packet InterNet Grouper," Muuss said that connotation was created after the fact -- possibly by a colleague of his -- and was not relevant at the time of the program's conception.

Spam

Gee, I wish I could find some information on acai berries and ways to increase the girth of my, erm, baseball bat. Oh, wait -- I can! It's all in the spam folder of my trusty inbox.

"Spam" has become such a common thing in our tech-centric society that most of us don't think twice about what it truly means. The tale of the term, though, is actually quite amusing: Spam, according to most popular accounts, comes not from the questionable canned meat but rather from a 70s-era Monty Python sketch.

In the sketch -- aired originally on British TV -- the word "spam" is repeated ad nauseam and then inserted randomly into sentences to the point where it becomes hard to understand their actual meanings. The credits for the clip even show the word interspersed throughout the names of the cast and crew, making them pleasingly difficult to read.

Funny stuff -- though given the negative connotation the term's now developed, I suspect the people over at Hormel aren't laughing.

Cookie

While there's no definitive recipe for the origins of the Internet cookie, we can piece together some likely ingredients to get a pretty good idea of the word's source.

First, in case you've been living under a rock for the last 10 years: In the modern Web world, a cookie refers to a small packet of data stored by a website via your browser. It allows the website to hold and collect information about your activity and usage habits. Online services use cookies for everything from remembering your sign-in info and in-site preferences to tracking what pages you view across the Web in order to serve up relevant ads.

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