Here Are the Origins of 10 Tech Terms You Use Every Day

Did you know that Thomas Edison used the term 'bug'?

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By Nina Zipkin

Stanislaw Pytel | Getty Images

The funny thing about language is how words and phrases seep in everyday use without anyone realizing exactly where they came from. As ubiquitous as technological devices are in our daily lives, so is the vocabulary that is attached to the innovation that made them possible.

But who invented the words that have become so commonplace? Read on to find out.

If you have referred to a tech problem as a bug, you can thank pioneers including Thomas Edison and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Edison used the term in some correspondence about the development of the telephone in 1878, and Hopper, one of the inventors of the electronic computer in the 1940s, is believed to have coined the term when she discovered an actual moth trapped inside one of her prototypes.

If you've used a site such as Yelp or TripAdvisor to narrow down your choice of restaurant or lodging, you've taken advantage of crowdsourcing. But the term wasn't invented until 2006, in an article in Wired by a writer and editor named Jeff Howe.

Related: How Crowdsourcing Is Shaping the Future of Everything

A Stanford engineer named Doug Engelbart invented the computer mouse as a prototype in 1961. But why it was called a mouse is a little bit of a mystery. According to the Computer History Museum, Engelbart couldn't remember who was responsible for calling it a mouse. The name served as a shorthand to describe the device, which at the time had a long wire that made it look like a rodent with a tail.

Open Source
Open source software, which comes with code that anyone can access and improve or change, wasn't always called "open source." Scientist Christine Peterson came up with the term in 1998 at the Foresight Institute, a nonprofit think tank dedicated to nanotechnology and advances in AI. Today, companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft all use open source as a part of their business models.

While it's hard to pin down the one person who decided that junk mail should be called spam, internet entrepreneur and author Brad Templeton says that the famous Monty Python viking spam sketch, which made the lunch meat synonymous with unrelenting repetition, was adopted by the users of very early chat rooms in the late 1980s to describe the process of overwhelming a computer with data to crash it.

In 1997, a writer named Jorn Barger created a site where he shared links with readers called Robot Wisdom WebLog, with WebLog short for logging the web. In 1999, a programmer named Peter Merholz shortened the phrase even further to blog, which started gaining traction by users of platforms such as LiveJournal and Wordpress.

Related: How to Make Over $1,000 a Month by Blogging

Big Data
While the definitive source of the term big data -- which is used describe a collection of analytics that companies use to predict customer behavior -- is a little fuzzy, according to some digging done by New York Times reporter Steve Lohr, the person responsible for its popularization is a man named John Mashey, a computer scientists who was VP and chief scientist at company called Silicon Graphics in the early 1990s and 2000s.

While we share memes every day, the word actually didn't get its start online, but in a different field of science. It was coined by Richard Dawkins, the famous British evolutionary biologist who was a professor at the University of Oxford. He introduced the word in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, and used it as a way to describe how trends and societal practices catch on and become popularized.

Internet of Things
The phrase is used to describe a system of everyday items that are built to be equipped with wi-fi capabilities. Think of the setup of a smart home, with for example, a refrigerator that knows when to order new groceries. Kevin Ashton, a British author and scientist who is an expert in the field of sensing technology, coined the term in 1999 when he was working at Proctor & Gamble to help improve supply chain communication systems. He is also the founder of the Auto-ID Lab at MIT.

If you were wondering why crazy successful tech startups -- ones that are valued at more than $1 billion -- are called unicorns, you can thank Aileen Lee, a venture capitalist and the founder of the firm Cowboy Ventures. Why unicorn? Because of the mythic rarity of a startup reaching that milestone. Not something you see in the wild every day, if at all.

Nina Zipkin

Entrepreneur Staff

Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.

Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.

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