10 Whacky PC Acronyms - dummies

By Dan Gookin

Computers are about performing tasks quickly, and nothing helps humans speak and write more quickly than an acronym. It’s a marriage made in heaven. The computer industry loves creating acronyms, and computer marketing people and users love speaking them. This fine tradition dates back years to the first PC, which of course is an acronym for Personal Computer.

ASCII

An oldie not seen much these days, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange was an acronym that meant “text file.” Not only that, because text characters followed the ASCII (say “ass-key”) standard, those files could be exchanged easily between computers. That was a big deal in the 1970s and 1980s. And you complain today about older Word file formats?

DOS

The original and ugly PC operating system was called DOS. It rhymes with boss, although people called it “dose” or they said “dee oh es.” DOS stands for Disk Operating System, which seems redundant these days, but early computers didn’t come with disk drives. The official name of what PC users once called DOS was PC-DOS or MS-DOS. Today, DOS is commonly used as an acronym for Denial Of Service, a type of Internet attack.

HDD

Another silly acronym from days gone by, this one stood for Hard Disk Drive, as if such a thing needed an acronym. Apparently it did.

ISA

This is a funny acronym, one of the first examples of acronym desperation in computerdom. ISA stands for Industry Standard Architecture. That really means nothing, but it refers to the expansion slots available in the original IBM PC family of computers. These expansion slots were called “expansion slots” until IBM developed the PS/2 system, which used a standard called Microchannel Architecture (MCA) for its expansion slots. So what to call the original expansion slots? Some wag thought of ISA, or Industry Standard Architecture.

PCMCIA

Early PC laptops lacked internal expansion options, so a method was devised to add hardware features to a laptop in a space-saving way. These expansion cards, about the size of a credit card but much thicker, were given the acronym PCMCIA. It stands for Personal Computer Memory Card International Association, but the nerds often joked that it stood for, “People can’t memorize computer industry acronyms.”

TCP/IP

This networking protocol has been shortened recently to only IP, as if the TCP really never mattered. That’s sad. The acronym stands for Transmission Control Protocol over Internet Protocol, so shouldn’t it be TCPOIP? Or is the / used for division?

TWAIN

This is almost the best, legitimate computer industry acronym ever. It’s a backronym, which is a term applied to a series of letters someone thinks of and then tries to figure out a clever acronym to match. The computer industry is full of a lot of these backronyms. In this instance, TWAIN is technology used in computer scanners. It stands for – and no, this is not made up – Technology Without An Interesting Name.

WIMP

When Windows and other graphical operating systems first appeared, the nerds enjoyed making disparaging remarks on such easy-to-use software. At the time, text-based operating systems were popular (see DOS), and they required memorizing and correctly typing specific commands. So the nerds came up with an acronym for the graphical operating system’s interface, which used Windows, Icons, Mouse, and Pull-down menus. Thus, the WIMP interface was born.

WSYWIG

Delightfully pronounced “wizzy-wig,” this acronym was popular at the dawn of the computer era. Back then, while using text mode it was difficult to discern how a document would look when printed. Various software developers strived to achieve a perfect match between what was shown on the computer screen and what would be printed – something you take for granted today. They referred to accurate on-screen representations as What You See is What You Get, or wizzy-wig.

WWW

The World Wide Web is a wonderfully accurate description, yet it uses the most horrid letter of the alphabet not once but thrice. The letter W is the only multisyllabic member of the English alphabet. It’s the only letter defined by using two words. It takes forever to say. As an acronym, WWW is a failure.

Say it out loud: “Double-U, Double-U, Double-U.” Oh, and then say “dot,” of course, because WWW is always followed by dot. Not only that, in most web page addresses, you don’t even need to type the WWW part, let alone say it. That is, unless you have time to spare, in which case bore your fellows by pronouncing the whole thing.