Thoughts on looking out of Windows

Share
Related Topics
After a salmon day in the salt mines, anyone would be ready to mung the English language. For those who fail to understand, a dictionary of West Coast jargon submitted by the readers of Wired magazine has been published, to keep the score in the unending war between the technicians who create language and the marketing men who tear it down again.

Salt mines is a description of any routinely dreary programming work. A salmon day is what you get when dealing with marketing men: "you spend all day swimming against the current, and at the end get shafted".

Mung is slightly more complex. Originally used as a safe swear-word in English convent schools in the Thirties - "Oh mung!" - it came to mean, during the Second World War, a sort of corned beef that bore the same resemblance to the real thing as "mung" did to real oaths.

It next found its way to the Model Railway Club at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a group of ubernerds who changed the world. They set out to build and maintain what may be the most complicated model railway network in the world, but when computers came along in the Fifties, they started to play with them too, and invented hacking: the activity, as well as most of the words that go with it. These included "mung" in the sense of "break". (About the only words the Model Railway Club never used were "trainspotters", and, despite the Boston winter weather, "anoraks".)

The engineers also produced "friodes", otherwise known as sound-emitting diodes - from the crackle they give off as they let out their "magic smoke". Magic smoke is the stuff that makes all electrical devices work; the proof of this theory is that when the smoke comes out of them, they stop working. (Magic smoke is, of course, an entirely different substance to the vapour in "vapourware", which is a product that doesn't exist except in the imagination of the company selling it.)

The truly amazing thing about computer jargon is that so much of it makes immediate sense. True, many of the things that are meant to be easy to understand, such as "menus" and "dialogue boxes", are incomprehensible to beginners. ("Ah!" cried my mother, when it was finally explained to her. "It's a monologue box!") But anyone can tell from the mere sound of the phrase that a computer that has gone into "mumble mode" is in a bad way. In fact it will soon get a "three-fingered salute" (the combination of keys used to reboot it). Only someone who is totally "404" would fail to see that. (404, most common number on the Internet, is the error message you get when a page does not exist, as any fule find out soon enough.)

It may be that people are making up such stuff simply to get into Wired magazine's on-line Jargon file. If you work all day in a phone farm what else is there to do?

But jargon has always been fun to use, and is constantly being absorbed into everyday language. "Hack" once meant riding gently on horseback. And as recently as 10 years ago, unhappy office-workers once spent all day gazing miserably out of windows - not into it.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
Andreas Lubitz runs the Airport Race half marathon in Hamburg on 13 September 2009  

Being sensitive to mental health need not lead us to downplay the horror of what Lubitz did

Will Gore
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing