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Idioms are far from uncommon throughout the technology industry. Whether you’re in software or hardware development or handle the business end of an IT company, you’re going to hear phrases such as kill two birds with one stonebells, and whistleseverything’s running ship-shape, and in Layman’s terms, just to name a few.

These expressions are shorthand for the much more complex processes going on, keeping communications between developers quick and universal. Idioms also make it far easier to communicate what developers are handling to the business side of the company. Rather than trying to explain to the CFO how you’ve optimized application’s processes to reduce the amount of stress put on the device’s CPU, for example, you could just say, “Everything’s smooth sailing after this update!”

Despite the prevalence of shorthands, idioms, and expressions in the tech industry, you hardly ever hear any technology-based idioms. You wouldn’t ever necessarily hear, “That’s like blocking two DDOS attacks with one firewall” Rather, “This firewall kills two birds with one stone” would be the knee-jerk phrasing, even between two developers. Why?

 

Seriously, Where Are All the Computer Idioms?

Before boiling down where this shortage of computer and technology-based idioms stem from, it’s imperative to wrap your head around what an idiom is. Perhaps looking into their history will spare us a clue or two.

What is an Idiom?

An idiom is a figure of speech intended to express an idea other than it’s literal meaning. For example, if someone has cold feet, their feet aren’t actually cold (well, their feet maybe, who knows – but that’s not the point of the idiom), it means they’re unsure of a decision, event, etc…

The Idioms, the largest idiom dictionary on the internet, estimates that there are over 25,000 idioms in the English language alone. Common idioms include:

  • a dime a dozen – the subject in question is common, just like any other.
  • beat around the bush – to avoid something.
  • cut me some slack – translates to “go easy on me”
  • back to the drawing board – to start all over again.
  • jump the gun – to get ahead of one’s self.
  • let it off the hook – let it go.
  • missed the boat – missed the opportunity.
  • a grey-area – something unclear.
  • a rip-off – something of much lesser value than it’s cost.
  • break a leg – good luck.
  • kill two birds with one stone – one solution solves multiple problems.
  • ship-shape or smooth sailing – everything is working intended, without issue.
  • bells and whistles – fancy upgrades.
  • wrap my head around – come to understand something.

Idioms vary from culture to culture, but they exist within every language. Idioms you may hear all around the globe include:

  • mustard after lunch – is a Polish expression to denote it’s too late.
  • not all donuts come with a hole – is an Italian idiom that refers to disrespecting someone.
  • to have dumplings instead of flowers – is a Japanese expression for picking something useful over something aesthetically pleasing.
  • a whole lot of noise and no walnuts – is the Spanish version of all bark and no bite, an expression for someone who’s all talk without ever pursuing what they say.

Some idioms are far easier to decode than others. Missed the boat, and cut me some slack are pretty self-explanatory, but mustard after lunch might take a minute or two for someone who isn’t familiar with Polish culture to wrap their head around.

Preteen girl rolls eyes as mom uses idols she doesn't understand

History of Idioms

While you could pinpoint the origins of specific idioms, it’s hard to nail down where the idea of idioms originated from. They have been so embedded and ingrained within our day-to-day language throughout societies around the world, you may as well say they’ve been around since the dawn of time.

Idioms can be traced all the way back to a time of Aesop, mid-6th century BCE. A Greek slave by the name of Aesop wrote 725 fables, which were relayed from one another with the intent to entertain and teach a moral lesson. More often than not, these fables revolved around animals or insects; foxes, grasshoppers, crabs, and stags.

In the fable The Fox and the Grapes, a fox dismisses the grapes he tried so hard to grasp as just sour grapes after being unable to reach them. Sour grapes have gone on to live outside of the fable itself as their own expression. More often than not, someone who is a sore loser may play indifferently to their shortcomings as “sour grapes”.

Although these expressions have been around for quite some time, the word idiom itself only arose sometime during 1588 in France, according to Merriam-Webster.

 

Memes and Idioms

In more recent years, memes have taken the world by storm. Similar to idioms, memes are intended to quickly represent an idea, typically with an air of humor. While a meme doesn’t necessarily have to be an idiom, many memes found themselves on sarcasm, existential humor, or exaggerations – they are not meant to be taken seriously.

Memes may also be an icon, figure, or image, such as the troll facegrumpy cat, or even popular phrases and hashtags.

The word meme itself was coined by an English ethologist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins. In a book he published in 1976, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins invents the word meme to express how information spreads and develops in culture.

 

Where are All the Computer Idioms?

Although idioms have been around for quite some time and they serve as the basis for memes in more recent years, there is still a serious lack of computer and technology-based idioms.

Which, unfortunately, makes sense. These expressions have been ingrained in our society for hundreds upon thousands of years, and the invention of the computer is far more recent.

According to Computer Hope, the first mechanical computer was invented in 1822 by Charles Babbage. The Z1, first programmable computer – a machine that closely resembles what we would refer to as a computer today, in contrast to Babbage’s invention – was invented by a German civil engineer by the name of Konrad Zuse.

Perhaps the explanation for the lack of technology is as simple as time.

Which leaves us to wonder… Will the computer-based idioms be the norm in future societies? Will younger generations still use and understand the colonial era expressions such as, you’ve got a screw loose, or it’s time to face the music, that we still use 300 years after their invention?

It’s definitely interesting to ponder.

 

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Nate Richards
Nate has over 18 years of software engineering and consulting experience. He founded Entrance in 2003. Nate is the past President of the Board of LifeHouse Houston, a Christ-centered maternity home ministry, and is past Executive committee member and Treasurer of Houston Achievement Place, a foster care and social skills training non-profit organization.
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