Saturday, July 6, 2002

Thank you computers!

THE world of computers is responsible for many additions to the lexis. An e-mail is not always of interest and the number of messages may irritate you but they still keep coming. Spam is the word for such messages. It has an intriguing beginning. A blend of the first two alphabets of spiced and last two of ham, spam came into existence in the 1930s. The sense in which it applies to the Internet is derived from a famous British sketch that shows the boring menu of a café in which every item includes spiced ham. This sense of monotony gave birth to the word spam in all the contexts in which it is used on the Internet.

One, spam is to mass-mail unrequested identical or nearly identical e-mail messages, particularly those containing advertising. These mail addresses have been taken from network traffic or databases without the consent of the recipients. The computer crowd also calls these unwanted messages UCE (Unsolicited Commercial E-mail) and UBE (Unsolicited Bulk E-mail). Two, bombarding a newsgroup with multiple copies of a message is also spam or EMP, (Excessive Multi-Posting). Three, spam is also the act of crashing a computer program by feeding too much data into a computer, much beyond its capacity.

Computer-created words
June 22, 2002
Fiddling with words, again!
June 8, 2002
Fiddling with words
May 25, 2002
May 11, 2002
Words in twos
April 27, 2002
April 13, 2002
March 16, 2002
And the romance goes on...
March 2, 2002
Less etymology, more romance
February 16, 2002
Random tales"
February 2, 2002
History and meaning
January 19, 2002

If a computer is overloaded with spam, it is said to suffer from GIGO, an abbreviation for garbage in, garbage out. When a computer is mistreated or given imperfect data, it suffers from GIGO as it can create garbage alone from garbage. The sense of GIGO extends beyond the computer when there are failures in human decision-making due to faulty, incomplete, or imprecise data. More recently, GIGO has also come to stand for ‘Garbage In, Gospel Out’, which is an ironic comment on the tendency human beings have to put excessive trust in computerised data.

Computer products go through two kinds of tests before they are offered to the consumer. The first test is called the alpha test after the first letter of the Greek alphabet; the product at this stage is used and tested in-house by the company alone. The second test is the beta test after the second letter of the Greek alphabet for which it is made available to a select group of consumers for feedback and modifications. Beta testing is used in the non-computer sense for anything that is new and experimental, it could be a girlfriend or a new recipe.

Most people love cookies, the little biscuits that take their name from the Dutch koekje or little biscuit. Cookies today are not only found in bakeries but in computers too! Here, a cookie is a packet of data that is deliberately fed into a particular computer so that whenever that computer tries to access information, it can be identified. So, cookies can be of all kinds of flavours, not chocolate chip alone!


While on the subject of flavour, words constantly change flavour, giving the vocabulary depth and richness. Prasad refers to the sweets distributed as a symbol of God’s grace. For prasad as a word, life started differently. In Sanskrit, the language of its origin, prasad is used as a trait of water (its purity) and as a trait of wisdom (its clarity). It stands for cleanliness and radiance. The current sense of prasad came much later, tying up neatly with the earlier connotation.