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COMPUTER USAGE, sometimes Computer English. The REGISTER of English associated with computer technology and electronic communication, for both professional and other purposes, such as: the creation, use, and maintenance of equipment; recreation, such as video games and electronic bulletin boards; the writing and transmission of electronic mail; the promotion of products; word processing, desktop publishing and electronic publishing; and informal usage, including slang. Such usage has both lexical and syntactic aspects, including word-formation, semantic change, and distinctive prose styles.


(1) Compounds, such as database an organized store of information, light pen a light-sensitive rod for ‘drawing’ on screens or for reading data. (2) Fixed phrases such as high-level language an algebraic code with elements of natural language for operating computers, mainframe a very large computer system. (3) Abbreviations such as ASCII (pronounced ‘Askee’) for ‘American Standard Code for Information Interchange’, CD-ROM for ‘compact disk read-only memory’, GIGO for ‘garbage in, garbage out’, WYSIWYG or wysiwyg for ‘what you see is what you get’ (that is, a precise correspondence between what is on screen and what is printed out). (4) Blends, such as the programming languages FORTRAN, fusing ‘formula’ and ‘translator’, and LISP, fusing ‘list’ and ‘processing’. (5) Eponyms, such as non Von Neumann architecture, any architecture basically different from the style of computer specified by the US mathematician John von Neumann, and Turing machine, an imaginary computer with characteristics as stated by the UK computing pioneer Alan Turing.

Semantic change

The adaptation of meanings and uses from the language at large into computer usage (new uses for old words), from computer usage to the language at large (public uses for private ‘jargon’), and from one register to another (such as from medicine to computer usage):


New uses for old words: architecture the arrangement of complex hardware and software, chip a tiny wafer of silicon on which is engraved a minute circuit, compiler a program which translates computer languages into machine language, document as a verb, meaning ‘write’, interface (noun) a connection between devices which cannot otherwise communicate with each other, (verb) to provide or have such a connection, library a set of programs for common tasks, mouse (plural sometimes mouses) an electrical pointing device like a remote control used to move elements on the screen of a personal computer.


Extended uses for ‘computer jargon’: input and output as nouns, as in I didn't like his input to the meeting, and verbs, as in Can you input that again?—I didn't understand; bug as in directions for home brewing have been debugged so thoroughly they are foolproof; interface as in the interface between government bureaucracy and the average citizen; mode as in I attended the meeting in sponge mode (I listened but said nothing); and network as in to network (to call around one's friends and colleagues).


The term virus has been transferred from medical to computer usage, to mean a planted program that copies itself from machine to machine, causing trouble along the way by using up memory or corrupting or deleting files. Before this term became established, such a program was briefly known as a Trojan horse or Trojan.

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