Trivia

Hard

Which Of These Computer Terms Was Originally Literal?

Defragging
Patching
Disk Wiping
Booting
A roll of blue punched paper tape containing a computer program.
Orangejon/Wikimedia

Answer: Patching

It’s entertaining to think about many of the computer terms we use coming from literal origins. What if we called it “booting” the computer because people used to start the machines with a swift kick from their boot-clad feet? Sadly, the majority of them are figurative in meaning.

In the case of software patching, however, the origins were quite literal. Early reprogrammable computers were programmed using punch tape where the command instructions were actual holes punched into the paper stock. If you made an error or introduced a bug into the code, you would have to review the physical tape and then carefully cover over the erroneous holes with paper “patch” tape.

In light of that, perhaps in an alternate history we’d have ended up calling the process of code repair “Scotching” (after a brand name of tape) or “masking” (after a type of tape) instead of patching.

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