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The Lingo

This glossary is only a tiny subset of net.speak, all the various terms and phrases that people regularly use on Internet. For a more complete (and more entertaining) reference, get a copy of The New Hacker's Dictionary, which is based on a VERY large text file called the Jargon File, edited by Eric Raymond <eric@snark.thyrsus.com>.

The 2nd edition just came out in December 1993, and is available from the MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02142. The up-to-date version of the Jargon File The on-line hacker Jargon File, version 3.0, 29 July 1993, is kept on various FTP servers (e.g. from ftp.gnu.ai.mit.edu as file `/pub/gnu/jarg300.txt.gz').

:-) This odd symbol is one of the ways a person can portray "mood" in the very flat medium of computers--by using "smilies." This is "metacommunication," and there are literally hundreds of them, from the obvious to the obscure (see section The Unofficial Smiley Dictionary). This particular example expresses "happiness." Don't see it? Tilt your head to the left 90 degrees. Smilies, or smileys are also used to denote sarcasm.

ASCII Has two meanings. ASCII is a universal computer code for English letters and characters. Computers store all information as binary numbers. In ASCII, the letter "A" is stored as 01000001, whether the computer is made by IBM, Apple or Commodore. ASCII also refers to a method, or protocol, for copying files from one computer to another over a network, in which neither computer checks for any errors that might have been caused by static or other problems.

ANSI Computers use several different methods for deciding how to put information on your screen and how your keyboard interacts with the screen. ANSI is one of these "terminal emulation" methods. Although most popular on PC-based bulletin-board systems, it can also be found on some Net sites. To use it properly, you will first have to turn it on, or enable it, in your communications software.

ARPANet A predecessor of the Internet. Started in 1969 with funds from the Defense Department's Advanced Projects Research Agency.

Backbone A high-speed network that connects several powerful computers. In the U.S., the backbone of the Internet is often considered the NSFNet, a government funded link between a handful of supercomputer sites across the country.

Baud The speed at which modems transfer data. One baud is roughly equal to one bit per second. It takes eight bits to make up one letter or character. Modems rarely transfer data at exactly the same speed as their listed baud rate because of static or computer problems. More expensive modems use systems, such as Microcom Network Protocol (MNP), which can correct for these errors or which "compress" data to speed up transmission.

BITNet Another, academically oriented, international computer network, which uses a different set of computer instructions to move data. It is easily accessible to Internet users through e-mail, and provides a large number of conferences and databases. Its name comes from "Because It's Time."

Bounce What your e-mail does when it cannot get to its recipient -- it bounces back to you -- unless it goes off into the ether, never to be found again.

Command line On Unix host systems, this is where you tell the machine what you want it to do, by entering commands.

Communications software A program that tells a modem how to work.

Daemon An otherwise harmless Unix program that normally works out of sight of the user. On the Internet, you'll most likely encounter it only when your e-mail is not delivered to your recipient -- you'll get back your original message plus an ugly message from a "mailer daemon."

Distribution A way to limit where your Usenet postings go. Handy for such things as "for sale" messages or discussions of regional politics.

Domain The last part of an Internet address, such as "news.com."

Dot When you want to impress the net veterans you meet at parties, say "dot" instead of "period," for example: "My address is john at site dot domain dot com."

Dot file A file on a Unix public-access system that alters the way you or your messages interact with that system. For example, your .login file contains various parameters for such things as the text editor you get when you send a message. When you do an ls command, these files do not appear in the directory listing; do `ls -a' to list them.

Down When a public-access site runs into technical trouble, and you can no longer gain access to it, it's down.

Download Copy a file from a host system to your computer. There are several different methods, or protocols, for downloading files, most of which periodically check the file as it is being copied to ensure no information is inadvertently destroyed or damaged during the process. Some, such as XMODEM, only let you download one file at a time. Others, such as batch-YMODEM and ZMODEM, let you type in the names of several files at once, which are then automatically downloaded.

EMACS From Editing MACroS. A standard Unix text editor preferred by Unix types that beginners tend to hate.

E-mail Electronic mail -- a way to send a private message to somebody else on the Net. Used as both noun and verb.

Emoticon A smiley. See :-).

F2F Face to Face. When you actually meet those people you been corresponding with/flaming.

FAQ Frequently Asked Questions. A compilation of answers to these. Many Usenet newsgroups have these files, which are posted once a month or so for beginners.

FYI For Your Interest.

Film at 11 One reaction to an overwrought argument: "Imminent death of the Net predicted. Film at 11."

Finger An Internet program that lets you get some bit of information about another user, provided they have first created a `.plan' file.

Flame Online yelling and/or ranting directed at somebody else. Often results in flame wars, which occasionally turn into holy wars (See section Usenet: from Flame Wars to Killfiles).

Followup A Usenet posting that is a response to an earlier message.

Foo/foobar A sort of online algebraic place holder, for example: "If you want to know when another site is run by a for-profit company, look for an address in the form of <foo@foobar.com>."

Fortune cookie An inane/witty/profund comment that can be found around the net.

Freeware Software that doesn't cost anything.

FTP File-transfer Protocol. A system for transferring files across the Net.

Get a life What to say to somebody who has, perhaps, been spending a wee bit too much time in front of a computer.

GIF Graphics Interchange Format. A format developed in the mid-1980s by CompuServe for use in photo-quality graphics images. Now commonly used everywhere online.

GNU Gnu's Not Unix. A project of the Free Software Foundation to write a free version of the Unix operating system.

Hacker On the Net, unlike among the general public, this is not a bad person; it is simply somebody who enjoys stretching hardware and software to their limits, seeing just what they can get their computers to do. What many people call hackers, net.denizens refer to as crackers.

Handshake Two modems trying to connect first do this to agree on how to transfer data.

Hang When a modem fails to hang up.

Holy war Arguments that involve certain basic tenets of faith, about which one cannot disagree without setting one of these off. For example: IBM PCs are inherently superior to Macintoshes.

Host system A public-access site; provides Net access to people outside the research and government community.

IMHO In My Humble Opinion.

Internet A worldwide system for linking smaller computer networks together. Networks connected through the Internet use a particular set of communications standards to communicate, known as TCP/IP.

Killfile A file that lets you filter Usenet postings to some extent, by excluding messages on certain topics or from certain people.

Log on/log in Connect to a host system or public-access site.

Log off Disconnect from a host system.

Lurk Read messages in a Usenet newsgroup without ever saying anything.

Mailing list Essentially a conference in which messages are delivered right to your mailbox, instead of to a Usenet newsgroup. You get on these by sending a message to a specific e-mail address, which is often that of a computer that automates the process.

MIME Multi-purpose Internet Mail Extensions. A currently (1993) heavily developing extension of the Internet mail protocol, that enables sending of 8 bit e-mail messages, e.g. to support extended character sets, voice mail, FAX images, etc. Read comp.mail.mime if you want to keep up with new developments.

MOTSS Members of the Same Sex. Gays and Lesbians online. Originally an acronym used in the 1980 federal census.

Net.god One who has been online since the beginning, who knows all and who has done it all.

Net.personality Somebody sufficiently opinionated/flaky/with plenty of time on his hands to regularly post in dozens of different Usenet newsgroups, whose presence is known to thousands of people.

Net.police Derogatory term for those who would impose their standards on other users of the Net. Often used in vigorous flame wars (in which it occasionally mutates to Net.nazis).

Netiquette A set of common-sense guidelines for not annoying others.

Network A communications system that links two or more computers. It can be as simple as a cable strung between two computers a few feet apart or as complex as hundreds of thousands of computers around the world linked through fiber optic cables, phone lines and satellites.

Newbie Somebody new to the Net. Sometimes used derogatorily by net.veterans who have forgotten that they, too, were once newbies who did not innately know the answer to everything. "Clueless newbie" is always derogatory.

Newsgroup A Usenet conference.

NIC Network Information Center. As close as an Internet- style network gets to a hub; it's usually where you'll find information about that particular network.

NREN National Research and Education Network. The future of the U.S. part of the Internet. Said to be 50 times faster than currently (1993).

NSA line eater The more aware/paranoid Net users believe that the National Security Agency has a super-powerful computer assigned to reading everything posted on the Net. They will jokingly (?) refer to this line eater in their postings. Goes back to the early days of the Net when the bottom lines of messages would sometimes disappear for no apparent reason.

NSF National Science Foundation. Funds the NSFNet, a high-speed network that once formed the backbone of the Internet in the U.S.

Offline When your computer is not connected to a host system or the Net, you are offline.

Online When your computer is connected to an online service, bulletin-board system or public-access site.

Ping A program that can trace the route a message takes from your site to another site.

.plan file A file that lists anything you want others on the Net to know about you. You place it in your home directory on your public-access site. Then, anybody who fingers (See section Telnet (Mining the Net, part I),) you, will get to see this file.

Post To compose a message for a Usenet newsgroup and then send it out for others to see.

Postmaster The person to contact at a particular site to ask for information about the site or complain about one of his/her user's behavior.

Protocol The method used to transfer a file between a host system and your computer. There are several types, such as Kermit, YMODEM and ZMODEM.

Prompt When the host system asks you to do something and waits for you to respond. For example, if you see "login:" it means type your user name.

README Files found on FTP sites that explain what is in a given FTP directory or which provide other useful information (such as how to use FTP).

Real Soon Now A vague term used to describe when something will actually happen.

RFC Request for Comments. A series of documents that describe various technical aspects of the Internet.

ROTFL Rolling on the Floor Laughing. How to respond to a particularly funny comment.

ROT13 A simple way to encode bad jokes, movie reviews that give away the ending, pornography, etc. Essentially, each letter in a message is replace by the letter 13 spaces away from it in the alphabet. There are online decoders to read these; nn and rn have them built in.

RTFM Read the, uh, you know, Manual. Often used in flames against people who ask computer-related questions that could be easily answered with a few minutes with a manual. More politely: RTM.

Screen capture A part of your communications software that opens a file on your computer and saves to it whatever scrolls past on the screen while connected to a host system.

Server A computer that can distribute information or files automatically in response to specifically worded e-mail requests.

Shareware Software that is freely available on the Net. If you like and use the software, you should send in the fee requested by the author, whose name and address will be found in a file distributed with the software.

.sig file Sometimes, `.signature' file. A file that, when placed in your home directory on your public-access site, will automatically be appended to every Usenet posting you write.

.sig quote A profound/witty/quizzical/whatever quote that you include in your `.sig' file.

Signal-to-noise ratio The amount of useful information to be found in a given Usenet newsgroup. Often used derogatorily, for example: "the signal-to-noise ratio in this newsgroup is pretty low."

SIMTEL20 The White Sands Missile Range used to maintain a giant collection of free and low-cost software of all kinds, which was "mirrored" to numerous other ftp sites on the Net. In the fall of 1993, the Air Force decided it had better things to do than maintain a free software library and shut it down. But you'll still see references to the collection, known as SIMTEL20, around the Net.

Smiley A way to describe emotion online. Look at this with your head tilted to the left :-). There are scores of these smileys, from grumpy to quizzical.

Snail mail Mail that comes through a slot in your front door or a box mounted outside your house.

Sysadmin The system administrator; the person who runs a host system or public-access site.

Sysop A system operator. Somebody who runs a bulletin-board system.

TANSTAAFL There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.

TLA Three Letter Acronym, such as IBM, DEC, etc.

TCP/IP Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. The particular system for transferring information over a computer network that is at the heart of the Internet.

Telnet A program that lets you connect to other computers on the Internet.

Terminal emulation There are several methods for determining how your keystrokes and screen interact with a public-access site's operating system. Most communications programs offer a choice of "emulations" that let you mimic the keyboard that would normally be attached directly to the host-system computer.

UUCP Unix-to-Unix CoPy. A method for transferring Usenet postings and e-mail that requires far fewer net resources than TCP/IP, but which can result in considerably slower transfer times.

Upload Copy a file from your computer to a host system.

User name On most host systems, the first time you connect you are asked to supply a one-word user name. This can be any combination of letters and numbers.

VT100 Another terminal-emulation system. Supported by many communications program, it is the most common one in use on the Net. VT102 is a newer version.

"It's is not, it isn't ain't, and it's it's, not its, if you mean it is.
If you don't, it's its.  Then too, it's hers.  It isn't her's.
It isn't our's either.  It's ours, and likewise yours and theirs."
--- Oxford University Press, Edpress News

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