How 7 strange tech terms got their names

We use words like "Bluetooth," "wiki," and "Wi-Fi" all the time, but how did those things actually get their names? You might be surprised to find out

Tech terms can be funny things. Think about it: What does "Bluetooth" actually mean? Why do we call a piece of code that tracks us a "cookie"? And what for the love of GOOG is a "wiki"?

So where did some of the strangest-sounding tech terms come from, and how did they get their unusual names? Grab yourself a cookie -- the sugar- and-flour kind, that is -- and let's seek out some answers.

This slideshow is based on the ITworld article "The true stories behind tech's strangest terms."


According to 2006 Bluetooth Hall of Fame inductee Jim Kardach, "Bluetooth" comes from the name of an ancient Danish king who went by the moniker Harald Bluetooth. And no, King B wasn't actually Papa Smurf in disguise. Legend has it the dude just really loved blueberries and got his name because of his ever-so-sexy fruit-stained teeth.

What's significant about King Bluetooth, though, is that he united different regions and allowed them to communicate with each other. See where this is going?

Despite marketing experts' best efforts to come up with a replacement name for Bluetooth, nothing else stuck.


Wi-Fi, as it turns out, doesn't stand for anything. Phil Belanger, a founding member of the Wi-Fi Alliance, has gone on record saying the term was nothing more than a catchy word created by a brand consulting firm.

As Belanger recalls it, Wi-Fi Alliance members were worried people wouldn't accept the term without an explanation and agreed to add a tag line to early marketing materials: "The Standard for Wireless Fidelity." That tag line was created after the fact, Belanger says, a "clumsy attempt to come up with two words that matched 'Wi' and 'Fi.'" The line was dropped a year later.


While the imagery of a goblin-like cave monster seems awfully apt, there's actually more to the term than meets the eye. The word "troll," you see, is also a verb meaning "to fish by trailing a lure or baited hook from a moving boat."

With that in mind, it's easy to see how the Web-centric meaning came to be. Of course, the added visual of a hideous hook-nosed beast certainly doesn't hurt.


Credit for the first wiki is commonly given to a guy named Ward Cunningham, who came up with a site called WikiWikiWeb in 1995.

Ward was wooed by the word "wiki" when he traveled to Hawaii. While there, he says, an airport employee told him to look for a "wiki wiki bus" that'd take him between terminals. The worker explained to him that "wiki wiki" meant "quick."

Ward went on to redefine "wiki" as "the simplest online database that could possibly work." His WikiWikiWeb site laid the groundwork for the wiki-style sites we know today.


Ping, in its current form, traces back to a Unix-based network administration tool created in the early 80s. The program sends a data packet to a network-connected computer and then measures how long it takes for the system to respond.

Ping's author, Mike Muuss, said he "named [Ping] after the sound that a sonar makes, inspired by the whole principle of echo-location."

Although some people associate Ping with the acronym "Packet InterNet Grouper," Muuss said that connotation was created after the fact -- possibly by a colleague of his -- and was not relevant at the time of the program's conception.


Spam, according to most popular accounts, comes not from the questionable canned meat, but rather from a 70s-era Monty Python sketch.

In the sketch, the word "spam" is repeated ad nauseam and then inserted randomly into sentences to the point where it becomes hard to understand their actual meanings. The credits for the clip even show the word interspersed throughout the names of the cast and crew, making them pleasingly difficult to read.

Funny stuff, though given the negative connotation the term's now developed I suspect the people over at Hormel aren't laughing.


While there's no definitive recipe for the origins of the Internet cookie, we can piece together some likely ingredients to get a pretty good idea of the word's source.

The most common explanation suggests the term comes from Unix. In Unix, a "magic cookie" refers to a chunk of data that's passed between two programs. See the resemblance?

As for how the word "cookie" originally came to be, that answer's a little more murky. Some have pointed to the notion of leaving tiny crumbs behind; others tie the term to the fortune cookie and its use of an embedded message within a neatly wrapped package.

JR Raphael is a syndicated writer and cookie connoisseur (he prefers snickerdoodles over the digital variety). Follow him on Google+ or Twitter for more freshly baked tech musings.