Technology Terminology Explained

Refresh Your Memory's Technology Terminology

If, like us, you're a fan of the uber-geekery of top tech website Mashable you may have chuckled along to a recent feature that gave us the seven backstories behind everyday technology terms. Here at PIF, we got thinking about just how much of our everyday lexicon was spawned from the confines of a computer lab.

There's no end to the double meanings permeating our vocabulary, from the humble desktop, to trolls, and viruses. We take them for granted but how on earth did any of these terms get saved in our memories in the first place?! Let's interface with a few...

Boot or booting


Definition: Describes the process taken by the computer when turned on that loads the operating system and prepares the system for use.

Origin: Short for bootstrap or bootstrap load from the phrase “to pull oneself up by one's bootstraps.” In a nutshell, most software is loaded onto a computer by other software already on the computer. So, much like your literal boots, the tech version gets your computer's initial software up and running.

Trolls and trolling


Definition: Someone who deliberately posts inflammatory messages in an online setting (Facebook, blogs, forums) to provoke a response.

Origin: Stemming from the old Norse mythology of a gruesome ogre with a particular penchant for hiding under bridges and scaring goats. Originally, online “trolling” was a fairly innocuous invention of the early 1990s to weed out newbies in discussion forums by posting questions or topics that were so done to death that only a new user would respond. In recent years, media reports have associated “trolling” with online harassment, sometimes with tragic consequences, that's led to tougher laws against cyber bullying.



Definition: Viruses are self-replicating computer programs which install themselves without the user's consent.

Origin: “Similar to the way a biological virus must hitch a ride on a cell, a computer virus must piggyback on top of some other program or document in order to launch,” according to HowStuffWorks. “Once a computer virus is running, it can infect other programs or documents.” Coughs and sneezes spread diseases but one of those sneaky phishing emails can have your laptop spluttering and reeling in seconds.


Definition: The main display screen of a computer, that shows icons of your primary files and folders.

Origin: In the early days of computing, metaphors were established to make computers seem less daunting. Just as the paper paradigm of having black text on a white background, pioneered by the likes of Douglas Engelbart, made word processing more like writing on paper, so the desktop metaphor – where you could shuffle your documents and folders around your virtual desk – made the whole computing process more tangible.



Definition: The physical devices used to store programs or data on a temporary or permanent basis.

Origin: It's easy to forget that early forms of computer memory, pioneered as far back as the 1940s, consisted of engineers tinkering with glass tubes filled with mercury and later cathode ray tubes. You're dealing with either volatile or non-volatile memory; the former is RAM that needs power to store information and the latter, like read-only and flash, works unpowered.

Refresh or reload


Definition: To update something with new data, most commonly a webpage.

Origin: It's unclear how these common terms slipped into usage but just as humans need refreshment, and guns need reloading, for optimal performance, so too do computers. Display monitors also need to be refreshed many times per second, as part of a process known as the refresh rate, vertical frequency, vertical scan rate, frame rate or vertical refresh rate that is measured in hertz (Hz).

Now that we've given you this little refresher are there any other tech terms you've pondered yourself that may have slipped through the (inter)net?!

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