Hacking Through the Computer Jargon Jungle

A Dictionary

When I first was learning about computers in the 1980's, I heard a lot of words like "data input" and "beta version."    They confused me and I wanted desperately to know what people were talking about. What Big Secret resided in the computer business. Was there something they really did not want me to know about?  

Now that I've worked with, built, cursed, and have had the balance of my mind severely tested by computers for the last few years, I've gained some of an insider's perspective.   I decided to share my knowledge and suspicions with the uninitiated by creating the following brief, handy dictionary:

The average IQ needed to understand a PC.

Software undergoes alpha testing as a first step in getting user feedback.   Alpha is Latin for "doesn't work "

Arrogance Produces Profit-Losing Entity

Opposite of go forward

Bill's Attempt to Seize Industry Control

Batch processing:
Making a lot of cookies at once

Software undergoes beta testing shortly before it's released to the unsuspecting public.   Beta is Latin for "still doesn't work. "

A word used to describe computers, as in "Our daughter's computer cost quite a bit."

What your friends give you because you spend too much time bragging about your computer skills.

A coder who works in the nude.

1.  Programmer's term for a feature.  2. An elusive creature allegedly living in a program which allegedly makes it incorrect. NB: The activity of "debugging" (removing bugs from a program) ends when a programmer gets tired of doing it, not when all the bugs are removed.

A very expensive part of a memory system that no one is supposed to know is there. Example: "I couldn't put a name to her face, then Jimmy tried rooting around in my cache."

Consumer Device - Rendered Obsolete in Months

The fattening, non-nutritional food computer users eat to avoid having to leave their keyboards for meals.

Instrument of torture.    William "Duffy" Smythe, a British scientist, invented the first computer.    In a plot to overthrow Adolph Hitler, Smythe disguised himself as a German ally and offered his invention as a gift to the surly dictator.    The plot worked. On April 8, 1945, Adolph became so enraged at the "Incompatible File Format" error message that he shot himself.    The war ended soon after Hitler's death, and Smythe began working for IBM, and later took his genius to ICL.

Right, what to do to a poor ickle wickle computer programmer when his system is "down". As if.

Chat room
An online place people go to to lie to each other.

Central Problem Unit.   The CPU is the computer's engine.    It consists of a hard drive, an interface card and a tiny spinning wheel that's powered by a running rodent - a mouse if the machine is a 286, a gerbil if the machine is a 386, a ferret if it's a 486, and a ferret on speed if it's a Pentium. A rubber band has been added for the Pentium II

Normal termination of a program.

An expert in 4-letter words, or what you turn into when you can't get your computer to perform, as in "You $#% computer!"

Default Directory.
Black hole directory is where all files that you need disappear to.

Diagnostic, a
Someone who doesn't know whether there are two gods.

What goes out in your back after bending over a computer keyboard for seven hours at a clip.

Disk Crash:
A typical computer response to any critical deadline.

Vital instructions  translated from Swedish by Japanese for English-speakers in Ireland.

Defective Operating System

A system programmer's work area, or the place all your former hobbies wind up soon after you install your computer.

Endless loop
See "Loop, endless".

End Users
he people who use COMPUTER systems.   Curiously, you never hear about "beginning users" though.

Acronym for "Exit Program, Read Owners manual".

What you made the first time you walked into a computer showroom to "just look."

Error message.
Terse, baffling remark used by programmers to place blame on users for the program's shortcomings.

Something used to catch the etherbunny

Expansion Slots:
Computer slang for "vital parts missing". A computer with "expansion capability" is capable of working only when the extra parts are purchased and slotted in.

Hardware limitation as described by a marketing representative

A document that has been saved with an unidentifiable name.    It helps to think of a file as something stored in a file cabinet - except when you try to remove the file, the cabinet gives you an electric shock and tells you the drawer does not exist and that the file format is unknown.

Hardware that is beginning to melt.

The state of your wallet after purchasing a computer. or
The condition of a constant computer user's stomach due to lack of exercise and a steady diet of junk food (see Chips").

A bug with ambitions.

GUI (pronounced "gooey")
What your computer becomes after spilling your West Coast coffee on it.

Symptom of too much programming. Most commonly seen among programmers who have just had their program erased by power fluctuations before they could save their program.

Hard Drive:
The sales technique employed by computer salesmen, especially after a Syntax Error.

Collective term for any computer-related object that can be kicked or battered.

The feature that assists in generating more questions.    When the help feature is used correctly, users are able to navigate through a series of Help screens and end up where they started from without learning anything. On-line help gives you the chance to share this experience with someone who knows as much as you at the other end of a phone line.

Incredibly Big Machine

Information is input from the keyboard as intelligible data, and output to the printer as unrecognisable junk.

Interim Release.
A programmer's feeble attempt at repentance.

It Still Does Nothing

The standard way to generate computer errors.

All the words left out of your computer.

A system of organizing and defining error messages

Computer programming term
See loop

Loop, endless
See "Endless loop".

Machine-Independent Program:
A program that will not (repeat, not) run on any (repeat, any) machine

Of computer components, the most generous in terms of variety, amazing in terms of price changes, and the skimpiest in terms of quantity.

The time it takes for your state-of-the-art computer to become obsolete.

Most Intelligent Customers Realize Our Software Only Fools Teenagers

Instrument of torture, currently under investigation by the European Commission, US anti-trust authorities and the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Meaningless Indication of Processor Speed

An advanced input device to make computer errors easier to generate.

The ability to switch from Netscape or Solitaire back to an Excel spreadsheet a split second before the boss looks over your shoulder OR
Screwing up several things at once.

Null String:
The result of a 4-hour database search

Any computer you own.

The idea that a human being should always be accessible to a computer.

A nonsense word taped to your terminal

People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms

Sysadmin and tech support shorthand for "Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard."

Produces Erroneous Numbers Through Incorrect Understanding of Mathematics

A statement of the speed at which a computer system works. Or rather, might work under certain ideal circumstances.

Portable computer:
A device invented to force busy business execs to work at home, on holidays and on business trips.

Prime Number:
Tender, juicy numbers used in only expensive computers.

A joke in poor taste.    A printer consists of three main parts: the case, the jammed paper tray and the blinking light.

Those things you used to look at on your television before you hooked your computer up to it.

Computer avengers.    Once members of that group of secondary school nerds who wore tape on their glasses, played Dungeons and Dragons, and memorised Star Trek episodes, now millionaires who create "user-friendly" software to get revenge on whoever called them twits.
Also; A person who thinks he knows how to talk to a computer. A person who really knows how to talk to a computer is known as a fruitcake

Reference Manual.
Object that raises the monitor to eye level.    Also used to compensate for that short table leg.

Another way to end a data search

Scheduled Release Date.
A carefully calculated date determined by estimating the actual shipping date by throwing a dart at a calendar, and subtracting six months from it.

System Can't See It

A company intelligence device used to monitor how often your terminal is inactive.

Any computer you can't afford.

The basic substance of which all matter in the universe is composed.   Contrary to common belief, matter is not made of atoms and molecules. It is actually made of Stuff. This comes in many varieties and colours.   For example, Blue Stuff is the stuff that powers your PC. You can see it filling up the percentage bar as your computer does work. It's really bad when your computer runs out of blue stuff. Sometimes one of the blue stuff tubes bursts or springs a leak, and then the whole screen goes blue.

Syntax Error:
Walking into a comupter store and saying, "Hi, I want to buy a computer and money is no object."

System Update:
A quick method of trashing ALL of your software.

Of or pertaining to any feature, device or concept that makes perfect sense to a programmer.

Collective term for those who stare vacantly at a monitor.    Users are divided into three types: novice, intermediate and expert.

Will Install Needless Data On Whole System

Waste Of Money, Bandwidth And Time.

The last place you'd find a programmer.

World Wide Wait

Novice Users:
People who are afraid that simply pressing a key might break their computer.

Intermediate Users.
People who don't know how to fix their computer after they've just pressed a key that broke it.

Expert Users.
People who break other people's computers.

A television may insult your intelligence, but nothing rubs it in like a computer.

Never tell your computer that you're in a hurry.

Why doesn't DOS ever say "EXCELLENT command or filename?

Computers make very fast, very accurate mistakes.

Computers are not intelligent. They only think they are.

All computers wait at the same speed.

DEFINITION: Computer - A device designed to speed and automate errors.

Q: What's another name for the "Intel Inside" sticker on the Pentium-equipped PC?
A: The warning label.

Q: Complete the following word analogy test: Add is to Subtract as Multipy is to...
     1  Divide
     2  ROUND
     3  RANDOM
     4  all of the above

A: If you're using a Pentium, #4 is the right answer.

And now - some Bizarre Computer Responses:

Cannot find REALITY.SYS. Universe halted

COFFEE.EXE Missing - Insert Cup and Press Any Key


>>>>>-------- The information went data way -------->

BREAKFAST.COM Halted...Cereal Port Not Responding

Access denied--nah nah na nah na na!

Bad command. Bad, bad command! Sit! Stay! Staaay..

Shell to DOS...Come in DOS, do you copy? Shell to DOS...

Error: Keyboard not attached. Press F1 to continue

Press any key... no, no, no, NOT THAT ONE!

Press any key to continue or any other key to quit...

REALITY.SYS corrupted: Reboot universe? (Y/N/Q)

Hit any user to continue

Backup not found: (A)bort (R)etry (T)hrowup

Backup not found: (A)bort (R)etry (P)anic

(A)bort, (R)etry, (T)ake down entire network?

(A)bort, (R)etry, (G)et a beer?


10 Things We've Learnt About Computers From TV and the Movies

  1. Trendy companies with creative people only use Apples.

  2. No matter what kind of computer disk it is, it'll be readable by any system you put it into. All application software is usable by all computer platforms.

  3. People typing away on a computer can turn it off without saving the data or doing the "Shut Down" function - simply switch the off button. Niamh in Blue Dolphin in "Fair City" does it all the time.

  4. A hacker can get into the most sensitive computer in the world before the intermission - and can guess the secret password in two tries.

  5. Any PERMISSION DENIED always has an OVERRIDE function.

  6. Complex calculations and loading of huge amounts of data will be accomplished in under three seconds. All modems transmit data at approx eight gigabytes per second.

  7. Computers never crash during key, high-intensity activities. Humans operating computers never make mistakes under stress, so there's no need for an UNDO shortcut.

  8. Laptops always seem to have amazing real-time video phone capabilities and the performance of a Cray supercomputer.

  9. You can tell when an office drama was made by what OS they're using (e.g. believe it or not, BBC's "This Life" was still on Windows 3.1)

  10. The more high-tech the equipment, the more buttons it has. However, everyone must have been highly trained, cos the buttons aren't labelled.

The Top 12 Hints That Your PC Really Hates You

Welcome to Megacomputer's 24-hour helpline. If you have been waiting LESS than 24 hours, please remain on the line. 

What if people bought cars like they buy computers?

Ford doesn't have a "help line" for people who don't know how to drive, because people don't buy cars like they buy computers --but imagine if they did...

HELPLINE: "Ford Helpline, how can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: "I got in my car and closed the door, and nothing happened!"

HELPLINE: "Did you put the key in the ignition and turn it?"

CUSTOMER: "What's an ignition?"

HELPLINE: "It's a starter motor that draws current from your battery and turns over the engine."

CUSTOMER: "Ignition? Motor? Battery? Engine? How come I have to know all of these technical terms just to use my car?"

HELPLINE: "Ford Helpline, how can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: "My car ran fine for a week, and now it won't go anywhere!"

HELPLINE: "Is the gas tank empty?"

CUSTOMER: "Huh? How do I know?"

HELPLINE: "There's a little gauge on the front panel, with a needle, and markings from 'E' to 'F'. Where is the needle pointing?"

CUSTOMER: "I see an 'E' but no 'F'."

HELPLINE: "You see the 'E' and just to the right is the 'F'.

CUSTOMER: "No, just to the right of the first 'E' is a 'N'.

HELPLINE: "A 'N'?!?"

CUSTOMER: "Yeah, there's a 'R', an 'E', the first 'N', then a 'A', followed by 'U', 'L', 'T' ..."

HELPLINE: "No, no, no sir! That's the front of the car. When you sit behind the steering wheel, that's the panel I'm talking about."

CUSTOMER: "That steering wheel thingy-- Is that the round thing that honks the horn?"

HELPLINE: "Yes, among other things."

CUSTOMER: "The needle's pointing to 'E'. What does that mean?"

HELPLINE: "It means that you have to visit a fuel vendor and purchase some more fuel. You can install it yourself, or pay the vendor to install it for you."

CUSTOMER: "What? I paid 12,000 for this car! Now you tell me that I have to keep buying more components? I want a car that comes with everything built in!"

HELPLINE: "Ford Helpline, how can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: "Your cars suck!"

HELPLINE: "What's wrong?"

CUSTOMER: "It crashed, that's what went wrong!"

HELPLINE: "What were you doing?"

CUSTOMER: "I wanted to go faster, so I pushed the accelerator pedal all the way to the floor. It worked for a while, and then it crashed -- and now it won't even start up!"

HELPLINE: "I'm sorry, sir, but it's your responsibility if you misuse the product."

CUSTOMER: "Misuse it? I was just following this damned manual of yours. It said to make the car go to put the transmission in 'D' and press the accelerator pedal. That's exactly what I did --now the damn thing's crashed."

HELPLINE: "Did you read the entire operator's manual before operating the car sir?"

CUSTOMER: "What? Of course I did! I told you I did EVERYTHING the manual said and it didn't work!"

HELPLINE: "Didn't you attempt to slow down so you wouldn't crash?"

CUSTOMER: "How do you do THAT?"

HELPLINE: "You said you read the entire manual, sir. It's on page 14. The pedal next to the accelerator."

CUSTOMER: "Well, I don't have all day to sit around and read this manual you know."

HELPLINE: "Of course not. What do you expect us to do about it?"

CUSTOMER: "I want you to send me one of the latest versions that goes fast and won't crash anymore!"

HELPLINE: "Ford Helpline, how can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: "Hi! I just bought my first car, and I chose your car because it has automatic transmission, cruise control, power steering, power brakes, and power door locks."

HELPLINE: "Thanks for buying our car. How can I help you?"

CUSTOMER: "How do I work it?"

HELPLINE: "Do you know how to drive?"

CUSTOMER: "Do I know how to what?"

HELPLINE: "Do you know how to DRIVE?"

CUSTOMER: "I'm not a technical person! I just want to go places in my car!"


  1. Any given program, when running, is obsolete.
  2. If a program is useful, it will have to be changed.
  3. If a program is useless, it will have to be documented.
  4. Any given program will expand to fill all available memory.
  5. The value of a program is proportional to the weight of its output.
  6. Program complexity grows until it exceeds the capability of the programmer who must maintain it.
  7. Make it possible for programmers to write programs in English, and you will find that programmers cannot write in English.

Microsoft manager to programmer: "You start coding. I'll go find out what the customers want."

The "Cavan Computer Manual" is an exhaustive guide which describes how the information revolution has effected Cavan (remote part of Ireland).

LOG ON: Trowin' a bit a turf on de fire.

LOG OFF: Dere's too much haet comin from de fire.

MONITOR: Keepin' an eye on de fire.

DOWNLOAD: Gehhin' de turf ou'ha de trailer.

MEGA HERTZ: Whin yer noh careful gettin de turf.

FLOPPY DISC: Whatcha geh from tryin ta carry too much turf.

HARD DRIVE: Drivin home wi' de turf in d'winter.

PROMPT: What de postman isn't in d'winter.

CHIP: Tayho's for d'telly.

MICROCHIP: What's in de bohhom of de tayho bag.

MODEM: Whah ya did to de silage fields.

KEYBOARD: Where ya hang de keys ah da Massey Ferguson.

SOFTWARE: d'anorak.

HARDWARE: d'Duffle Coat.

MAINFRAME: Holds up de hay barn roof.

PORT: Fancy wiane.

ENTER: Yuppie talk for "C'mon in".

MOUSE PAD: Yuppie talk for de rah hole.

ROUTER: Whah' you do hope to be doin' afder de dishco of a Saherday nigh'

Warning: New Computer Viruses

Microsoft Ireland has just issued a "high alert" warning concerning a new strain of computer virus that affects Irish personal computers. Many of these are most active during the summer months, and affect Outlook Express users. Infected messages contain the letters "GAA" in the Subject line.

MEATH VIRUS: Throws you out of Windows.

CLARE VIRUS: Memory forgets everything before 1995.

KERRY VIRUS: Five years of hard work wiped out by undetected Offaly mail.

WATERFORD VIRUS: Not due to strike again for another 40 years.

COLIN LYNCH VIRUS: Boots up some Waterford machines and carries on as if nothing happened.

MAYO VIRUS: Always billed as harmful, but really nothing to worry about.

MICK O'DWYER VIRUS: Attempts to install lots of foreign programs to replace existing slow-running applications.

LIMERICK HURLING VIRUS: Causes problems for 65 minutes then disappears, never to be seen again.

JOHN MAUGHAN VIRUS: System crashes in September.

DAVID FORDE VIRUS: Hasn't been seen since the "Michael Duignan Virus Killer" was invented.

MICHAEL DONNELLAN VIRUS: Attacks operating system and timekeeper and then deletes all records of this ever occurring.

GER LOUGHNANE VIRUS: Speakers emit a continuous whining sound, keeps generating data corruption messages, PC blows up but it won't accept any blame.

MARTIN LYNCH VIRUS: Computer pretends to go down, but then boots back up and is OK.

Real Programmers...

Computer Originated Slang

Someone who's clueless. From the World Wide Web message "404, URL Not Found," meaning that the document you've tried to access can't be located. "Don't bother asking him...he's 404, man."

Alpha Geek
The most knowledgeable, technically proficient person in an office or work group. "Ask Rangi, she's the alpha geek around here."

Blowing Your Buffer
Losing one's train of thought. Occurs when the person you are speaking with won't let you get a word in edgeways or has just said something so astonishing that your train gets derailed. "Far out! I just blew my buffer!"

To take note of a person for future reference (a metaphor borrowed from web browsers). "I bookmarked him after seeing his cool page on InterLink."

Cobweb Site
A World Wide Web Site that hasn't been updated for a long time. A dead web page.

Dead Tree Edition
The paper version of a publication available in both paper and electronic forms, as in: "The dead tree edition of the Guardian Newspaper".

To be messed around by your boss/teacher/parent. Derived from the experiences of Dilbert, the geeky comic strip character. "I've been dilberted again. Dad changed his mind about taking me to the rugby for the fourth time this week."

Elvis Year
The peak year of something's popularity. "Barney the Dinosaur's Elvis year was 1993."

Corporate-speak for sleeping with your eyes open. A popular pastime at conferences, early-morning meetings and classes before lunchtime. "Didn't he notice that half the room was glazing by the second session?"

Greybar Land
The place you go while you're staring at a computer that's processing something very slowly (while you watch the grey bar creep across the screen). "I was in greybar land for what seemed like hours, thanks to that HUGE .gif on the front page."

Keyboard Plaque
The disgusting build-up of dirt and crud found on computer keyboards. "Are there any other terminals I can use? This one has a bad case of keyboard plaque."

A new team-mate who doesn't need any training. "The new girl, Sasha, is great. She's totally plug-and-play."

Under Mouse Arrest
Getting busted for breaking the rules while using Internet Relay Chat. "Sorry I couldn't get back to you. AOL put me under mouse arrest."

Microsoft Announces Improved BSOD

In a surprise announcement today, Microsoft President Steve Ballmer revealed that the Redmond based company will allow computer resellers and end-users to customize the appearance of the Blue Screen of Death (abbreviated BSOD), the screen that displays when the Windows operating system crashes.

The move comes as the result of numerous focus groups and customer surveys done by Microsoft. Thousands of Microsoft customers were asked, "What do you spend the most time doing on your computer?" A surprising number of respondents said, "Staring at a Blue Screen of Death". At 54 percent, it was the top answer, beating the second place answer "Downloading Pornography" by an easy 12 points.

"We immediately recognized this as a great opportunity for ourselves, our channel partners, and especially our customers." explained the excited Ballmer to a room full of reporters.

Immense video displays were used to show images of the new customizable BSOD screen side-by-side with the older static version. Users can select from a collection of "BSOD Themes", allowing them to instead have a Mauve Screen of Death or even a Paisley Screen of Death. Graphics and multimedia content can now be incorporated into the screen, making the BSOD the perfect conduit for delivering product information and entertainment to Windows users.

The Blue Screen of Death is by far the most recognized feature of the Windows (tm) operating system, and as a result, Microsoft has historically insisted on total control over its look-and-feel. This recent departure from that policy reflects Microsoft's recognition of the Windows desktop itself as the "ultimate information portal." By default, the new BSOD will be configured to show a random selection of Microsoft product information whenever the system crashes. Microsoft channel partners can negotiate with Microsoft for the right to customize the BSOD on systems they ship.

Major computer resellers such as Compaq, Gateway, and Dell are already lining up for premier placement on the new and improved BSOD.

Balmer concluded by getting a dig in against the Open Source community. "This just goes to show that Microsoft continues to innovate at a much faster pace than open source. I have yet to see any evidence that Linux or OpenBSD even have a BSOD, let alone a customizable one."

Q & A session: the Pendium FDIV bug

Q: How many Pentium designers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: 1.99904274017, but that's close enough for non-technical people.

Q: What do you get when you cross a Pentium PC with a research grant?
A: A mad scientist.

Q: What's another name for the "Intel Inside" sticker on the Pentium-equipped PC?
A: The warning label.

Q: What do you call a series of FDIV instructions on a Pentium?
A: Successive approximation.

Q: Complete the following word analogy test: Add is to Subtract as Multipy is to...

  1. Divide
  2. ROUND
  4. all of the above

A: If you're using a Pentium, #4 is the right answer.

Q: What algorithm did Intel use in the Pentium FDIV implementation?
A: "Life is like a box of chocolates." (-- F. Gump, Intel engineer)

Q: Why didn't Intel call the Pentium the 586?
A: Because they added 486 and 100 on the first Pentium off the line and got 585.999983605 .

Q: According to Intel, the Pentium conforms to the IEEE standards 754 and 854 for floating point arithmetic. If you're flying an aircraft designed using a Pentium, what's the correct pronunciation of IEEE?
A: Aaaaaaaiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeee!

Top Ten New Corporate Slogans for the Pentium Project

9.9999973521 : It's a FLAW Dammit, Not a Bug
8.9999163362 : It's Close Enough -- We Say So
7.9999414610 : Nearly 300 Correct Opcodes
6.9999831538 : You Don't Need to Know What's Inside
5.9999835137 : Redefining the PC -- And Mathematics as Well
4.9999999021 : We Fixed It... Really
3.9998245917 : Division Considered Harmful
2.9991523619 : Why Do You Think We Call it "Floating" Point?
1.9999103517 : We're Looking for a Few Good Flaws
0.9999999998 : The Errata Inside


Ode to the Spell Checker!

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

 . . .and for the WAP phone user
"Text message"
A mysterious piece of code that Bletchley Park would have taken three years to crack but easily understood by anyone under the age of 14

The e-mail of the species is deadlier than the mail.

Four men travelling in a car: a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, a chemical engineer, and a computer engineer.   The car breaks down.  The mechanical engineer said it must be the pistons, let's repair them and we'll be okay.  The electrical engineer said it has to be the spark plugs, we'll replace them and be ready to roll.  The chemical engineer said it's got to be bad petrol, we'll flush the system and be on our way.   They turned to the computer engineer. "What do you think we should do?" they asked.   The computer engineer replied, "Let's get out of the car and then get back in."

and finally . .

let's hit ctrl+alt+del.

(A)bort, (R)etry, (G)et a pint?
(A)bort, (R)etry, (I)gnore, (V)alium?
(A)bort, (R)etry, (S)ledgehammer.
(A)bort, (R)etry, (P)iss in the drive door
(A)bort, (R)etry, (S)elf-destruct?
(A)bort, (R)etry, (T)ake down entire network?

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Last updated: May-05
Copyright 2003