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Savvy Computing
Learning the Lingo of the Electronic Age

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As if the world of computers and the Internet isn’t difficult enough, it also comes with its own vocabulary. Just as with any other field, you can’t walk the walk unless you talk the talk.

Acronyms, jargon, and buzzwords serve several purposes. They condense complicated concepts into shorthand words and phrases, saving time. They help separate the insiders from the outsiders. And they can confuse the heck out of you!

If you’re a “newbie” and want to become a “digerati,” you’ve got to learn the lingo. Fortunately, help can be either a click or an arm’s length away.

The Most Important Tech Terms

NetLingo is both a website (http://www.netlingo.com) and a just-published 528-page book. Created by Erin Jansen and Vincent James, both resources provide definitions of more than 3,000 modern technology terms, including 1,200 SMS (“short message service”) acronyms.

Jansen has been around the cyberblock a few times. She’s been an Internet consultant since 1994, building and promoting websites for clients in the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, and France. Among the sites she’s worked with are CNET, OfficeDepot.com, and CareerMosaic.com.

I asked Jansen what she regards as the most important terms to know in the Information Age. Here’s what she came up with:


E-mail is the “killer app” of the Internet, the single most widely used and indispensable tool. Its nemesis is “spam” (the name comes from a Monty Python movie), also called “unsolicited commercial e-mail” (UCE).


Spam gunks up people’s “in-boxes.” Variations of spam include “meatloaf” (unsolicited personal e-mail), “velveeta” (excessive cross-postings in Usenet discussion groups), “fram” (spam sent to friends and family), and “SPIM” (spam sent by “instant messaging” or “IM”).


Every time you’re connected to the Internet, you are “downloading,” or transferring data from a “remote” computer to your “local” computer.

This applies to, among many things, MP3 songs. MP3 is short for “MPEG-1, audio layer 3,” and MPEG in turn is short for “Motion Picture Experts Group,” which is the standards body that created this file format.

MP3 makes sharing music over the Internet efficient, and controversial, since there’s now less incentive to buy music, which has caused music CD sales to drop along with music industry revenue.


When you see a checkbox on a Web page that says “send me info about such and such,” which often involves receiving advertising via e-mail, you can choose to “opt-in” by checking it. Sometimes websites are a little too crafty and check the box for you, which requires you to “opt-out” by unchecking it if you don’t want the mailings.

Conscientious websites require a “double opt-in”; you have to confirm by e-mail that you’ve agreed to receive the mailings. This prevents people from signing others up for unwanted mailings. If you opt-in and later change your mind, you’ll have to “unsubscribe,” following the directions given.


Acronyms are abbreviations derived from the first letters of a term or phrase, and they’re popular online because it’s quicker to type them. Many “netizens” also find it just plain cool to communicate in a lingo that not everyone understands.

Here are the most common ones:

  • TMI for Too much information
  • NRN for No reply necessary
  • TWIMC for To Whom It May Concern
  • EOM for End of message
  • BRB for Be right back
  • BTW for By the way
  • ROTFL for Rolling on the floor laughing
  • LOL for Laughing out loud
  • POS for Parent over shoulder.

“Smileys,” also known as “emoticons” because they’re symbols representing emotions or facial expressions, help prevent misunderstandings. The most common smiley is a sideways smiling face or 🙂 and it’s often used to indicate that you’re telling a joke.


Many Internet neologisms begin with the letter “E,” which stands for “electronic,” and perhaps the most important of these is “e-commerce.” With the recent “dot-com” bust, conducting business over the Internet doesn’t have quite the cachet it used to. But there are still plenty of opportunities for online entrepreneurs.

“B2B” (business-to-business e-commerce) is bigger than “B2C” (business-to-consumer e-commerce). Many individuals are engaging in e-commerce through online auctions on eBay.


Other Internet neologisms begin with “cyber,” which originated with the word “cybernetics,” the study of communication systems. “Cyberterrorism” encompasses any criminal attempt to disrupt computers or communicate terrorist plans via the Internet.

When a “hacker” brings down a website through a “denial of service” (DoS) attack or when someone writes or deliberately spreads a “virus,” “worm,” or other “malicious code,” they’re engaged in cyberterrorism.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com or http://www.netaxs.com/~reidgold/column.

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