I.T. Lingo
July 23, 2009 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Give me your best I.T. related words, phrases, and aphorisms. I have worked in a variety of companies, all of which seem to have some interesting lingo and vernacular. I am not looking for stuff like 'cookie', and 'firewall'. More along the lines of: 'Going Dark' - when developers grab a requirements document and disappear for months, 'Snowflake' - a server that has been modified to the point of being unique, fragile, and unrepeatable. Phrases would include things like 'The problem is between the chair and the keyboard', 'XYZ consulting is just a body shop', or 'Those legacy systems are sunsetting'. Help me collect colorful I.T. lingo and proverbs.
posted by jasondigitized to Computers & Internet (70 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
"The only thing left I can think of is percussive maintenance."
posted by mrmojoflying at 9:03 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

People in my office regularly ask about others' bandwidth (free time to work on other departments' projects), but I'm not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for. I first started hearing this at a startup I worked for in the 90s.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:04 AM on July 23, 2009

thrashing -- what an overloaded system is doing when it's so busy swapping resources among processes that it can't make any progress with any of them (and sometimes extended to describe people with so many projects and interruptions that they're not making progress with any of them)
posted by Zed at 9:05 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

'Context switching' is used to describe the act of switching between working on different projects frequently.
posted by mkb at 9:07 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

You used the whole phrase "The problem is between the chair and the keyboard" which is more commonly referred to as a PEBCAK issue. In the same vein, there's an ID10T problem (pronounced Eye-Dee-Ten-Tee to avoid calling someone an idiot).

Oh and a friend from Paris told me they like to call those "wetware" issues.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:07 AM on July 23, 2009

I've always liked "castors up" - when a piece of equipment has died, probably permanently. "It's gone castors up". I just like the mental image of a piece of computer equipment upside down like a dead cartoon dog.
posted by gribbly at 9:09 AM on July 23, 2009

"It's a feature not a bug."
posted by junkbox at 9:10 AM on July 23, 2009

I you haven't already checked out The Jargon File please do, as it it chock full of what you're looking for. The "meat" is here.
posted by Imhotep is Invisible at 9:13 AM on July 23, 2009

I always liked "Keyboard Nut" - this is the nut attached to the keyboard.

but Imhotep has it; the jargon file is where you want to be.
posted by jenkinsEar at 9:15 AM on July 23, 2009

Frankensteined--a program or database put together over a long period by multiple developers that is now sort of monstrous and unknowable, but also impossible to take apart.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:15 AM on July 23, 2009

thirding the Jargon File. A lot are obsolete or require a good amount of background knowledge, but lots are still used in IT today.
posted by xbonesgt at 9:17 AM on July 23, 2009

One that I've always found annoying is "ping". As in, "Bob hasn't gotten back to me yet. I'll ping him to see where he's at on the project."
posted by chrisamiller at 9:21 AM on July 23, 2009

I've always liked the "ID-ten-T" error, myself.

When I was doing support for a software company more then half of the tickets were closed with the code "RTFM" Read the F'in Manual!
posted by MattScully at 9:22 AM on July 23, 2009

"Meatspace" always makes me smile.

And I have never heard 'snowflake' before... I'm going to steal that one.
posted by icebourg at 9:24 AM on July 23, 2009

and, Unicorn, I have been guilty of using "bandwidth" in reference to peoples time to work on projects. Its just one of those that broke through...
posted by MattScully at 9:24 AM on July 23, 2009

Updation n. [Information Technology] updating

Example: Write a program for creation, deletion and updation of database records
posted by monospace at 9:30 AM on July 23, 2009

Also: "sneakernet": moving files between computers using physical media.
posted by monospace at 9:31 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

"Wetware": component of Information Technology that's neither hardware or software.
posted by monospace at 9:32 AM on July 23, 2009

I've always liked "PICNIC" as a reasonably pronounceable version of blaming the user--Problem In Chair, Not In Computer.
posted by FishBike at 9:34 AM on July 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

When I did web design we would talk about designer hours vs. client hours.
10 designer hours = about 1.2 client hours

Client: How soon before we can have the site up and running?
Designer: Well, to get the front end up will be about 10 hours of work and integrating the back-end might take another 15.
Client: Alright, so we should have it up tomorrow evening?
Designer: *shoots self in face.*
posted by ichthuz at 9:35 AM on July 23, 2009

I had a job once where the penalties for not staffing the position I was in (and by extension violating SLAs) would cost far more in a single 10 hour shift than my annual salary. We referred to ourselves as "meat in a seat" since it cost them less to pay us than the penalties for not slapping someone in a chair.
posted by zennoshinjou at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2009

"Backhoe fade" is when someone, somewhere, digs in the wrong spot and takes down a major Internet pipe. Or power line.
posted by lysdexic at 9:47 AM on July 23, 2009

"Pop to the top of the stack" - give priority to.

"jargon compliant" - bad idea that management want to implement because they keep hearing a term they don't understand from their buddies (who don't understand it either). Usage - "If we start doing reference through IM, we'll be jargon compliant."

"Wave a dead chicken" - what geeks do to get stuff to work (see the Jargon File).

"We'll have to have a meeting on that" - I'd love to do that for you, but management won't allow it.
posted by QIbHom at 9:51 AM on July 23, 2009

"Keyboard actuator" = think pebkac.
"Works/ing as intended" = something that is not very well thought out or misapplied.
"point and click" = easy to do
"nuke from orbit" = format/reinstall instead of diagnosing and fixing
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:00 AM on July 23, 2009

If we're about to make some necessary but risky change, it's common for someone to say "it's time to sacrifice the chicken" before flipping the switch. The riskier the change or more important the system, the larger the sacrificial animal.
posted by paulg at 10:02 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

air gap - to remove a device from the network. "it's secure, because i air-gapped it"
yak shaving - all the crap you do to do the stuff you need to do. "i wanted to install this package, but i ended up stuck in 10 hours of yak-shaving installing critical OS upgrades before the package would install"
keyboard-chair interface issue - i started using this because i liked it better than PEBKAC.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:04 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

borked, fucked - the server is down, unknown reason
wedged - the server is not responding because of lack of memory or the cpu is thrashing. See 'hung'.
fucking mother of fuck - the server just went down
Oh fuck - I just typed something I shouldn't have, as root.
took a dump - the server is down
fucked in the head - the server is down or a coworker is making silly statements
Oh dear - the building is actually on fire
posted by Skrubly at 10:12 AM on July 23, 2009 [8 favorites]

Box or Machine = Laptop/desktop/server of some sort
Bouncing a box = Resetting a computer
posted by o0o0o at 10:25 AM on July 23, 2009

Does the proposed hardware solution come with LRF* support?

*Little Rubber Feet
posted by islander at 10:37 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

"spontaneous bustion" = sudden failure with no apparent cause
"desuckification" = work done on software written by someone else :)
posted by madmethods at 10:39 AM on July 23, 2009

Cannibalize/salvage - gather parts from nonworking machines to make working machines.

lobotomize is covered on the jargon file, but not this use - to remove all extraneous services/executables to the point that the server/box is little more than a dumb terminal, doing one thing and doing it very well.
posted by lysdexic at 10:41 AM on July 23, 2009

grumpygeekwarning: "pop to the top of the stack" is nonsensical to me. They're either FIFO or LILO, meaning you can't just move something within the stack.

Now "popping the stack" for me is a description I use in conversation to get back to a subject I'd been originally discussing after a few derails.
posted by lysdexic at 10:44 AM on July 23, 2009

I also use "spaghetti" for this situation.

"take it offline" - talk about something outside of the current [meeting / conversation]
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:44 AM on July 23, 2009

'XYZ consulting is just a body shop'
And when those bodies aren't assigned to a project, they're "on the bench."
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:46 AM on July 23, 2009

"Burn down" - Format and rebuild the OS.
"Flatten" - Same as burn down.
Oh, and "notsocksing" - Perhaps not strictly IT related but it certainly required IT to come into being. As to the meaning, well, you'll have to ask cortex.
posted by bz at 10:54 AM on July 23, 2009

Something that is designed to be *painfully* simple for a user to understand, but that will be fucked up anyway - I've heard that called "PHD" - "press here, dummy".
posted by ersatzkat at 10:54 AM on July 23, 2009

Heh. Backhoe fade. Priceless.

We describe a lot of crufty cabling we find still in racks that's no longer in use as 'GNDN' after Star Trek. See below:

posted by word_virus at 11:11 AM on July 23, 2009

-Spaghetti code - a program (Assembler, PL/1, COBOL, IDEAL) with so many GOTO's that the flow of logic is untraceable.
-Fatal embrace - when a called program awaits resources from the calling program & vice-versa simultaneously.
-Lp0 on fire - Back in the days of high speed line printers, they were prone to catch fire. UNIX let you know about paper jams by telling you the printer was on fire.
-Abort, Retry, Fail - early MS-DOS error message, turned into a cultural catch phrase.
-Three finger salute - CTRL/ALT/DEL - also a catch phrase meaning start over from scratch on a project.
-"That Does Not Compute" - from the Lost In Space Robot.
-"I'm Sorry Dave, I Can't Do That" - from HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
posted by torquemaniac at 11:24 AM on July 23, 2009

-Fatal embrace - when a called program awaits resources from the calling program & vice-versa simultaneously

Heh - I've heard this called "folie a deux".
posted by ersatzkat at 11:46 AM on July 23, 2009

Awesome thread.

15 years ago, LaserMaster [later ColorSpan, now part of HP] R&D was a very close-knit group, and developed its own pile of jargon, much of which we all still use, even though we're scattered to the winds now.

There are some gems in the lexicon.
posted by chazlarson at 11:58 AM on July 23, 2009

People in my office regularly ask about others' bandwidth (free time to work on other departments' projects), but I'm not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for.

In my office we call this "cycles" as in "I'm spending a few cycles working on project X" or "Have some spare cycles to help me with something?"

When there is an emergency, we have to "put out the fire" which usually results in figuring out which piece of the system "shit the bed".
posted by utsutsu at 11:58 AM on July 23, 2009

"Spousal install" - a product install where no specific knowledge is required other than clicking "Next" and agreeing to everything. As in, the type of product install even your spouse could handle.

TLA. IT (and business in general) is full of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). Best used when you mention that there are too many TLAs, and wait for someone to ask what it means.
posted by Gortuk at 12:02 PM on July 23, 2009

"Power-cycle" -- the arcane art of unplugging it, then plugging it back in. Several non-IT people I work with express disbelief that there's a word for that.
posted by Alterscape at 12:03 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I call a problem a tar baby, after the Bre'er Rabbit story in which everyone who comes into contact with it is stuck particpating until the bitter end: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tar_baby There's a lot of those in IT, unfortunately.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:09 PM on July 23, 2009

These are great. Not the same field, but in video editing I sometimes have to recommend using a "reshoot filter" on a particular shot.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 12:22 PM on July 23, 2009

"Works on my machine" == you are a nit and i am not debugging any further.
posted by judge.mentok.the.mindtaker at 12:36 PM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

A particular problem is a "Brainer" rather than a "No-Brainer".
posted by Nick Verstayne at 1:30 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Somewhat not IT-specific, but here goes:

kabuki - elaborate, outrageous or showy solutions to (seemingly) simple problems
HCF (opcode) - Halt and catch fire.
Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO)
RTFM - Read the Fucking Manual
Bounce - see "power-cycle." (I'm bouncing the server again, hold on.)
Tango Uniform - see "casters up"
They sold you a bill of goods - When a room or building has a lot of fancy, expensive equipment but it doesn't work properly
posted by ostranenie at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2009

"nine women can't have a baby in a month" - said when management wants to throw bodies at a project, instead of having provided proper resources/schedule in the first place

"hair on fire" - responding to emergencies or disgruntled sponsors (used by project managers, mostly)

"drinking from the fire hose" - another project management-ism, usually said when we're parachuted into a project underway and have to learn about the personnel, technology, land mines, etc.

"Parachuted" - resource dropped into a project already underway, often to 'save' the project

"land mines" - hazards in a project that aren't documented (except in people's heads - and they're not talking)
posted by dbmcd at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2009

"forklift upgrade" - to replace an old infrastructure (or set of systems) completely rather than incremental changes. "We thought about just dropping new high speed cards in the existing switches, but instead we did a forklift upgrade of all the network gear so now everything's at gigabit speed with the potential to go to 10 gig when we need that."
posted by rmd1023 at 1:58 PM on July 23, 2009

"Clocking" : Computer is "busy" (i.e. little watch or hourglass is flipping).
"Zombie": A running process whose parent has died.
posted by catkins at 2:18 PM on July 23, 2009

My old crusty project manager used to ask "Did you BTB?" whenever I asked him about a strange error message or mentioned some other tech issue I was having. In his world, BTB meant "boot that bitch".

Not strictly tech-related, but this same guy used to keep a file folder on his desk that he called his "CYA" folder, where he kept copies of every memo/email regarding every stupid thing he was asked to do by management. This was his "cover my ass" folder, and it's something I do to this day.

Not cover HIS ass, which I indeed used to do, but now I cover my own.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:24 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

My personal motto is:

"Never trust a computer that you can't lift."
posted by Drasher at 3:34 PM on July 23, 2009

One that I've always found annoying is 'ping'. As in, 'Bob hasn't gotten back to me yet. I'll ping him to see where he's at on the project.'

The technical term means sending a request to a server to see if you get a response, which is so similar to a sonar ping that it seems obvious that that's the origin (or would that make too much sense?).
posted by kirkaracha at 3:50 PM on July 23, 2009

"lights out operation" - running without human supervision or assistance (after tape libraries and other automation, which continued to work all night, after the system operators left and turned out the computer room lights)

"pin compatible" - offering the same function as OEM solution, perhaps by radically different means (originally used to describe 3rd party hardware that conformed to signal levels and types specified for the connectors of equipment like RS-232 spec serial ports, or 1394 parallel ports)

"whiter shirt" - a more senior IBM field service engineer, called in by a junior service engineer for help or consultation on a difficult service problem

"wbS" - "warranty by Sales" - the practice of Sales people authorizing unpaid customer support on a product no longer on paid support contract, in hopes of getting purchase approval from the customer on some other product or service.

"CBB" - "can't be booted" - a piece of gear so critical to business operations that it can never be taken out of service intentionally for maintenance or repair; a mainframe computer.

"ponies aren't horses" - conventional wisdom when it is obviously, finally, clearly, even to the penny pinchin', Luddite CFO, time to upgrade hardware.

IPL - Initial Program Load - what computers made in New York or Rochester, MN do when they are started (implying that no one ever needs to kick IBM equipment, and actually the term that IBM uses for what everyone else calls "boot process")

"Watson's folly" - "the paycheck wager" - derisive terms originally circulated about the System/360, when in its final stages of development, Thomas Watson himself had to approve selling IBM stock to raise additional funding to finish development. By extension, any IT project of such large scope and difficulty that its failure could adversely affect an entire company, and for which, there is no realistic means of doing it in smaller stages, or by less risky means. An ERP system implementation, a wholesale upgrade of a large Web site database, etc.

"stone tablet" - a cumulative operating system software upgrade release related to security or continuity of operation of IBM proprietary systems. Since the code base for these systems is closed, and only executables are delivered for maintenance installation, details of vulnerabilities addressed by such patches are not released by IBM. If you keep your systems up to date by applying all stone tablets, you won't have issues where God (IBM) will forget about you, your systems will work as contracted, and/or IBM will make additional repairs as needed to assure this.

"Blue Stew" - the practice of large customer organizations preferentially specifying additional IBM hardware, when equivalent generic hardware might work, in order to meet IBM sales and marketing agreements for discounts, or additional product, or support rewards. Q:"Why didn't we get an EMC disk array, instead of more DASD (IBM term for system hard disks)?" A: (usually from CFO) "Blue Stew."

"C suite approved" - Another way of saying that senior management almost always accepts a recommendation to go with IBM systems, because IBM will be around to support systems they sell. Also phrased as "Nobody Ever Got Fired For Buying IBM."
posted by paulsc at 4:24 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

TLA. IT (and business in general) is full of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). Best used when you mention that there are too many TLAs, and wait for someone to ask what it means.

Not to mention ETLAs.
posted by harmfulray at 4:44 PM on July 23, 2009

algorasm -- short thrill of pleasure when something works
dynamic halt -- when something is in an endless loop
user-safe -- equipment that is offline or down
headless vector -- all velocity, no direction (also rocket ass -- all thrust, no guidance)
shaved the program/process/problem -- made it less hairy
dragbox -- area on your screen delimited by the size of your mousepad
exception report -- intermittent problem
igNOR gate -- a device with one output for all inputs, similar to a Write-Only device
test load -- users
gritch -- frustration caused by glitches
Beginner's Reset -- pulling the power cord from a machine at a dynamic halt
MS algorithm -- any stolen/borrowed/plagiarized/copied code
lebensRAM -- the user's demand for more resources without any real justification or need
macaroon -- user who thinks a high-power/more-expensive machine confers special status (from "what a maroon")
massively serial -- USB
NMPII (pronounced nimpee) -- Not My Problem, Is It?
Fuck You Fuze -- any device/light/warning message that performs its functions after the damage has been done
Polish Cameraman -- anyone who does something in the wrong order (e.g., shoot and point). Not an ethnic slur as long as Reverse Polish Notation is accepted as a defense/explanation
software rot (aka bit decay) -- Explanation of problem to user who claims "nothing has changed" on his computer
sufficiently large/small/asymptotic -- Always used with a number to deride math errors, as in "Yes, 16 + 2 = 19 for sufficiently large values of 2" or "That's true in the limit as 2 approaches 3"
spreadshit -- useless data or data collected uselessly into a spreadsheet
bottom-down -- lower than fundamentals. "He's our bottom-down programmer", i.e., deadwood
cursor address -- cube location of the user having problems ("curser")
posted by joaquim at 4:52 PM on July 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Speaking of TMA:

That's a tfb, standing for too f****** bad when someone whines about having to do their job. Usually some tedious task.

tbss - too bad, so sad.

Bad command or filename - I don't understand.

Jesus clips are a carryover from my VCR repair days. It's actually an E-clip or C-clip, but that's what you find yourself shouting when it goes flying across the room if you haven't tied a string to it prior to removal.

An old boss used to say "Cosmic Rays" whenever there was some glitch we couldn't explain. His rationale was that there was no way to measure whether or not a bit of electronics had or hadn't gotten hit, so we weren't lying and we weren't bullshitting the staff.

Of course bust a cap means something totally different when you're talking about power supplies

I use ping on my children. If I don't get "pong, Mama" back, I go hunt them down and they get a talkin' to.
posted by lysdexic at 6:20 PM on July 23, 2009

When the bloated, unrealistic project was running hopelessly behind schedule, the bosses asked us to focus on delivering the 'low hanging fruit' - the easily attained milestones. When I replied that if they had listened to us during the scope/specification phase we would have built shorter fruit trees, they were none too impressed.

The pickle we were in was alway a result of 'feature creep'.

One contract I worked on was developing an interactive video kiosk system for a local tourist attraction - the Philip Island Penguin Centre. The client was notoriously fussy and would always come back with revisions no matter what we did. We hit on the idea of including one purple penguin in every screen layout. Sure enough the client would say - love your work but can you lose that purple penguin. The term 'purple penguin' became a company wide euphemism for an easily removed bug which, if left in the build, would give the client a perceived sense of participation in the review process without causing the developers or designers any significant re-work.
posted by tim_in_oz at 6:53 PM on July 23, 2009

Great thread. I wish I had a week to document all the weird phrases we use that are so natural that it's difficult to identify them.

Off the top of my head:

People who 'know where the dead bodies are' = people you want on your project because they've been around a while/have enough experience to keep you away from the 'landmines'.

You know you're being 'matrix managed' when more than one person is telling you what to do.

'Fire and forget' strategy = Send the email. Hope the recipient of the email handles it. Never follow up because you're 'waiting for a response'.

My favorite: Negative option clause = the line (in bold) at the bottom of an email indicating what happens if no responses are received by a certain date.
posted by shew at 10:49 PM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

More a programming term: when you are developing, testing and running production code all on the same computer you have a "developmestruction environment".
posted by primer_dimer at 3:01 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned "changing the baby", meaning rebooting a (usually, but not always Windows-based) system.
posted by Kreiger at 3:23 AM on July 24, 2009

When we put in a second validation for safety's sake, we're using the "belt and suspenders" approach.
posted by dave99 at 3:42 AM on July 24, 2009

"Forklift upgrade" - upgrade by replacing the entire box. This only applies at companies that sell big, big boxes of course.

I've never heard "snowflake" or "go dark" before but I'll probably use them now.
posted by chairface at 10:32 AM on July 24, 2009

Cool names for printers : "deforest", "clearcut", etc.

"Priority interrupt", as in when you *really* have to leave a meeting for a "bio break".
posted by mdoar at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

CPU is pegged - CPU is running at 100% of capacity.
posted by lostburner at 3:58 AM on July 28, 2009

Also more programming but can somehow be applicable to IT : "There's no test like production ! "
posted by duckus at 4:59 PM on July 28, 2009

Another favorite from the Jargon File:

Big Room: n.

(Also Big Blue Room) The extremely large room with the blue ceiling and intensely bright light (during the day) or black ceiling with lots of tiny night-lights (during the night) found outside all computer installations. “He can't come to the phone right now, he's somewhere out in the Big Room.”
posted by jordanlewis at 3:02 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've always been fond of the term "christmas tree packet," meaning one that has all of its flags set to on.
posted by whir at 2:09 PM on July 31, 2009

Coming in late: "cargo culting". Describes how someone who really doesn't know anything about coding or database design tries to build something new by emulating bits and pieces from tutorials, books and other people's functioning projects.

What's especially frightening is when the contraption actually kind of works for a while.
posted by maudlin at 7:34 PM on November 2, 2009

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