My son once asked me: "who decided house was house?". Was it invented? Why start with a 'h'? What's with the sound? Who came up with that?

As a kid I always wondered why the word "women" contained the word "men" and who decided that "men" would some claim over the word "women" (probably a man if I were to place a bet!).

Still, words are weird. Nevermore so than in technology.

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I think, words have their accepted meaning out of being used time and time again. And then some more.

We can see new meaning for words appearing even in recent years. "Woke" to me, an up and coming fogey, is the past tense for waking from sleep. A verb (I think, English sadly was never my strength). Now, today, can also be used as a noun.

There are words that are nouns and verbs that were previously proper nouns, such as Tannoy or hoover.

Of course in tech, we have the habit of reappropriating words, which in fairness, has led to confusion.

Naming things is a classic age old problem for techies which is possibly why we cock it up so often.

There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.

— Phil Karlton (ref)

Words get their meaning from repeated use and group understanding: repeat a thing long enough and we'll forget to ask why it means.

One example I love: "booting up". We know this refers to a computer starting. Its origin comes from army soldiers preparing for the field and lacing up their boots.

There's also a slew of made up words in the world of web that are old enough that they're pretty stable (and somehow there's an agreed understanding), such as: web (it's not a spider's web!), URL, browser, blog, scroll, hypertext…etc.

We'll always have people who sit on the spectrum of this word adoption: those who instantly pick up new terms and march on (see: "microfrontends"!). At the other end of the spectrum are those who will hold on to the true meaning of words (as my own behaviour around the word "serverless"). But then there's everyone in between who are trying to settle on an agreed grammar for software!

There are also a good spate of words and terms in our industry that have general meaning but nothing specifically defined that allows you to tick a box and say "yep, this is X". A great example is "progressive enhancement" - there's still discussion as to what this means on a practical level.

With all that in mind, here's just a few words from the top of my head that score high on the "why on earth is that thing called that?!?!"

  • Serverless - there are servers involved
  • (re)hydration - nothing to do with drinking, or the fact that something needs refilling
  • Progressive Enhancement - starting at what level, and ending where?
  • div - not a word
  • JavaScript - what does this have to do with java?
  • The Cloud - the singular cloud? which one? is it even a place?
  • AI - it's machine learning, every single time!!!
  • Agile - do they mean "we need to move quickly" or do they mean that specific practice with meetings and stuff?
  • Webapp - is it a web site or an app, and what makes it not a web site…?
  • Smart-X - they're never smart. Smart TV: nope. Smart Phone: nope, just bigger. Smart bulb: just a bulb. Not smart
  • At scale - which scale are we actually talking about?!
  • Component - I understand this to be a bucket for anything we don't know how to describe properly
  • Widget - see above, also "I gave up trying to name the thing"
  • Polyfill - I mean, what even…

Of course there's many other words and I didn't poke fun at, and frankly give it another decade and there will be a slew of new words to annoy us (whilst we come to accept The Cloud really is just Serverless waiting to be Hydrated…maybe).

What words cause you frustration or laughter when used in the tech world?