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Geekspeak, Part 1

Jul 21, 2008
The term geekspeak refers to arcane jargon, special vocabulary, or speaking in tongues popularized by individuals immersed in computers and other fields of IT--which, coincidentally, is geekspeak for Information Technology. Most geekspeakers are blissfully oblivious and don't realize that they're speaking in digital tongues. If you happen to be at the receiving end, the experience can enlightening in an eye-glazing, put-a-bullet-in-my-head kind of way. As the great computer-using public becomes increasingly comfortable with technology, terms that may have formerly been considered geek become more familiar and may even become part of an unsuspecting individual's daily vernacular.

Geekspeak sounds like regular English that doesn't quite make sense because words so adopted can have a totally different meaning in polite, non-geek society. A "thread," in normalspeak, for example, may refer to an errant fabric strand protruding from a sweater; in geek it refers to an online discussion about a particular topic.

With that as our predicate, let's take a look at a few terms:


A computer program that automatically replies to email sent to a specific address. Autoresponders are frequently used for "vacation" or "I'm-out-of-the-office" type messages. Be careful using autoresponder messages. If you have your autoresponder configured to respond to every message received, you'll be automatically responding to every piece of spam and confirming the validity of your email address, a guaranteed recipe for even more spam.


Short for "Blue Screen of Death," this term is light-hearted slang for the dreaded Windows General Protection Fault error message, which has been known to result in another form of BSOD -- Blubbering Sobs of Depression.


The number of people Googling for health-related information has more than doubled in the past year. Harris Interactive estimates that 750 million adults search the Web for health-related information an average of three times a month. That average is skewed by a small number of cyberchondriacs who search an average of 20 to 30 times each month, often accompanied by the mournful refrain, "It's a tumor. I just know it."

Dialog Box

A small window that appears out of nowhere and forces you to make crucial-yet-uninformed decisions at inopportune moments. Dialog boxes occasionally appear that request additional information, preferences, or provide additional information in the form of error messages, and/or options.

Digital Watermark

A pattern of bits inserted into a digital image, audio or video file that identifies the file's copyright information. Unlike printed watermarks that appear on stationery, digital watermarks are designed to be invisible, or in the case of audio clips, inaudible. To view (or hear) a digital watermark, special software is required that's programmed to reveal the watermark data.


Within the context of a computer's operating system, the kernel is the first section of the operating system to load into memory (RAM). The kernel is responsible for multiple functions, including but not limited to disk drive management, file management, and memory management. Not to be confused with The Colonel, who makes a mean batch of fried chicken.


Also known as a microprocessor, the Central Processing Unit (CPU) is responsible for handling all instructions it receives from installed hardware components and software programs. There are several manufacturers of computer processors, Intel and AMD being the industry leaders.

Root Directory

The root directory is the bottom or starting point of your PC's folder structure or hierarchy. Technically, the root directory is your C:\ drive, without any folders. If you think of your computer's folder or directory structure in terms of a tree, the root directory is at the base of the tree from which other folders emerge.


Like its off-line counterpart, a target in computer parlance is also something that one takes aim at or is the object of some action. On the Web, a target is a Web page or file that you intend to download. When you right-click a link, a context menu appears with one option being, "Save Target As." The target is the object to which the link connects.


Nonexistent software or hardware. Vaporware makes a non-appearance when a company announces a new product that never materializes. An example of vaporware would be Silicon Film's Electronic Film System, which promised to convert film cameras to digital cameras. It was supposed to make its debut in 2001, but we're still waiting.


This acronym stands for "Waste Of Money, Brains And Time," and is frequently used in conjunction with hardware and software problems, glitches, viruses, hoaxes, and all the other things we have come to know and love in our digital lives. Example: "The IGMPv3 worm that infected many computers is a WOMBAT."
About the Author
Mr. Modem (MrModem.com) is an author, syndicated columnist, radio host, and publisher of the wildly popular, always entertaining, Pulitzer-lacking weekly "Ask Mr. Modem" computer-help newsletter. Mr. Modem's columns appear in more than 300 publications and each month in "Smart Computing" magazine. Visit MrModem.com for additional information, to view a sample issue, or to subscribe.
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