Understanding Computer Acronyms

The computer world is filled with acronyms. Read this humorous take on some of the more common ones.
Published: Dec 11, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan

This question submitted by Carl Watson, Liz Stefano, Arnold Tibbits, Annie Jones, Les Barrett and numerous others

Being in the computer industry has been a challenge for me because I am acronym-impaired. I always pronounce acronyms as if they were words. I say "gooey" for GUI, "middie" for MIDI and "mipps" for MIPS. A character created by a local juggler is "Mimo the Talking Mime," pronounced mee-moe. MIMO is another computer acronym. But what do they mean? Acronyms have become so ubiquitous that people use them as words without always knowing what they stand for.

What is a GUI? It stands for Graphical User Interface. It means that you see pictures, icons and symbols on your screen (as in Windows or MacOS) instead of just text (as in DOS and UNIX). MIDI is "Musical Instrument Digital Interface." MIPS is "Million Instructions Per Second," pretty fast, especially if you are in the Army! And that talking mime one? MIMO stands for "Multiple Input, Multiple Output."In case you were wondering, in computerese, MIME stands for "Multimedia Internet Message Extensions." In (sort of) plain talk it means coding attachments to your e-mail such as a picture of little Junior so they will go through your modem without confusing it, then un-coding it on the recipient's end so they can see the picture you sent.

I once helped a programmer pal name her application that changed ASCII characters into codes. I dubbed it "Don't ASCII, Don't Telli." What itreally stands for is "American Standard Code for Information Interchange."It's really some codes for characters that we use in writing, including an upper and lower case alphabet and some other characters. When you type on your computer keyboard it is likely using ASCII to put your great American novel into your computer.

Speaking of codes, everyone has heard of HTML (there is no fun way to pronounce it). It stands for HyperText Markup Language. It is really a scripting language that has a way of including hypertext. You may think that hypertext is something that a motor-mouth utters, but it is really text with links that you can click to take you to more text that relates to the original text. Links on Web sites are hypertext. When you look at it in its raw form, it's just text like what you are reading. It contains tags that tell a Web browser or other program to do certain things (like show a picture or link to another Web page). The browser looks for those tags and tries to do what they mean. Kind of like an electronic game of Simon Says.

MP3s have become famous with the success of the iPod. It's actually a kind of acronym within an acronym, as if single-layer acronyms aren't confusing enough! It stands for MPEG Audio Layer, version 3 of the format. MPEG stands for Moving Picture Experts Group, the group of people who developed this format for storing videos. So the audio layer is just the sound part, which has become all the rage. By the way, I say it "em peg."

GIGO is not a bad movie with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. But it does apply very nicely to that movie. It means "Garbage In, Garbage Out." In computing it means that at its core a computer is a stupid lump of minerals, and if the program you write is bad the result of using it will be... you guessed it! Bad! Same with data. And it's the same with movies -- put in a bad script, bad direction and/or bad acting and you get GIGO.

RAID sounds like a handy bug spray. If a bug in your computer erases your important data, a RAID setup IS handy. It stands for Independent Array of Independent Drives (or Disks). Basically it is two or more hard disk drives that are set up to automatically mirror each other. This means if you make a change on one, it is automatically copied to the other(s). That way if the first disk fails you still have all your stuff on the others.

ROM and RAM are not the mythical founders of Rome. That was Romulus and Remus and they came long before ROM and RAM hit the scene. ROM is "Read Only Memory." That is memory that is stuck on the chip. It is kind of like a book that has been laminated in plastic -- you can read it but you can't write on it.

RAM stands for "Random Access Memory." That is a geeky way of saying you can change what is on that memory chip and access it as long as it is still there. A blackboard is kind of like a RAM chip. You can write something, write something else. You read what you wrote. You erase some of it and write something else there. You read that. You can read from anywhere on the blackboard very quickly.

One of my favorite computer acronyms is TWAIN. First of all, it's fun to say. "I could have taken the TWAIN but I preferred to ride the twolley." Second of all, it's actual meaning has nothing to do with what it does. TWAIN is a kind of in-between technology that turns data from a device like a scanner into something your computer can understand and use (like in a drawing program). The acronym stands for "Technology Without An Interesting Name."

You would think that CAD has to do with treating female geeks poorly.It stands for "Computer Aided Drafting," and is used by architects and designers. Some of them may be cads, but most of the ones I have met were very nice.

CD stands for "Compact Disk." You could compact more stuff onto these disks than you could onto the old floppy disks. Then they came out with DVDs, which I claim are my Ds since my initials are DV. It stands for"Digital Video Disk," and in reality it is a CD on steroids, because it can fit a heck of a lot more data onto the same physical space as a CD.

JPG is an abbreviation of JPEG, which stands for "Joint Photographic Experts Group." That isn't as descriptive as GIF ("Graphics Interchange Format"). Both are picture formats. They both happen to include ways of compressing pictures so the files will be smaller. That's why JPGs and GIFs are so popular on Web sites -- they take less time to download because they are small. A graphics format is simply away of storing a picture in a way that other programs can read them so they look like what they are supposed to look like.

As if acronyms aren't confusing enough, abbreviations are also used plentifully in computing. FAX isn't an acronym. It's an abbreviation for "Facsimile." Blog sounds like it should be an old horror movie starring Michael Landon, but it is just an abbreviation of "Web Log" which is an online journal. And BMP, which I pronounce the way Inspector Clouseau would say "bump," is an abbreviation for "Bitmap," another kind of picture format.

You can find more meanings at Web sites like Babel orTUCCA.. (I don't know what THAT stands for!), though beware -- the definitions are not always easy to understand. For me it's simple: if you RAM a TWAIN you'll end up a GUI mess!

I'd like to thank Carl Watson, Liz Stefano, Arnold Tibbits, Annie Jones, Les Barrett and numerous others for asking this question.

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About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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