My son asked me why wireless audio connections are named after someone’s blue tooth and I had no idea. Thinking about it, there are a lot of strange words in the technology age! Most importantly, whose blue tooth is commemorated with Bluetooth?
You’re correct that technologies often seem to be named after obscure people, myths and even weird acronyms. Often it’s to differentiate a solution, but many end up named based on an adopted nickname. Some of my favorite weird words in tech are Bluetooth, troll, Wi-Fi, wiki, ping, and spam. There’s also a whole world of software and operating system programs named after not just mythology, but often obscure or literary works. For example, the Unix and Linux operating systems have “daemons” that are always running in the background, and there’s a popular security system named after the dog that guards the entrance to the underworld: Kerberos.
The Linux distro Gentoo is named after a variety of penguin, the programming language Java is indeed named after the blend of coffee that comnes from the island of Java, and the Macintosh computer (now known as simply the “Mac”) is indeed named after the McIntosh apple.
But what about that blue tooth?
ORIGIN OF THE WORD BLUETOOTH
Bluetooth is named after the Viking King Harald Bluetooth. No kidding. He was famous both for his love of blueberries (hence his famously stained teeth) and his accomplishment of uniting different regions of Denmark so they could communicate with each other. It’s a weird, but logical name for wireless audio if you think about it in that light!
ORIGIN OF THE WORD WI-FI
Wi-Fi is easier: It doesn’t stand for anything. You may think that it’s short for “Wireless Fidelity” but it was actually chosen by a brand consultant who sought to create a short, catchy name.
ORIGIN OF THE WORD TROLL
How about Internet trolls? Do they have anything to do with ugly creatures hiding under bridges demanding that you name your favorite color? Sadly, they don’t. A “troll” in Internet parlance is someone who posts hateful, racist, sexist or other rude comments purely to see everyone else get upset and respond. Kinda like how your kids can push your buttons and get you to react even when the situation is benign.
Internet trolls, however, aren’t monsters, the term comes from trolling, a technique fishermen use to catch big fish by trailing a lure or baited hook from a moving boat. Speaking of which, however, what IS your favorite color?
ORIGIN OF THE WORD PING
Run a speed test on your wi-fi connection and one of the numbers it returns is “ping speed”. A “ping” is the time it takes for a data packet to be sent from your computer to the server and be answered. Faster is better. That “ping” is named after the sound a submarine’s sonar makes to calculate distances. Think “Run Silent, Run Deep” or “Das Boot” and you’ll immediately understand.
ORIGIN OF THE WORD WIKI
You’ve undoubtedly visited Wikipedia at some point in the last month, but do you know where the word “wiki” comes from? Turns out that it’s a Hawaiian word that means “quick”. Wiki wiki! Simple enough. Wikipedia, of course, is Wiki + Encyclopaedia mashed together.
ORIGIN OF THE WORD SPAM
Speaking of Vikings, how about all of that junk email? You know, spam. What the heck does it all have to do with the Hormel canned meat product of the same name (that’s popular in Hawaii, as it happens)? Not much. Turns out that email spam gets its name from a classic Monty Python skit about a couple ordering a meal at a restaurant that only serves spam-based dishes. Fortunately, the wife looooves it.
WHAT ABOUT YAHOO? STARBUCKS?
As a bonus, Yahoo! is actually an acronym, standing for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle, a name inspired by the satirical book “Gulliver’s Travels”. And Starbucks? Read “Moby Dick” to find the inspiration. I mean, you did wonder why the company has a mermaid as its logo, right? Now ya know.
There are lots and lots and lots more of these odd and interesting origin stories for companies, products, and technologies. In this instance, a well written search can be your friend!
Pro Tip: I’ve written quite a bit about the history and evolution of the Internet and modern computing. Please check out my computer basics help area or more fun and useful guides while you’re here! Thanks.