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Boots, Reboots and Bootstraps

Not to mention Baron Munchausen...
Friday 24 June 2011.

Jargon terms that were once used only by computer programmers and techies are now increasingly becoming part of everyday language. As they do so, their meanings often become obscured. One such example is to "boot" or "reboot" a computer.

It seems that many people do not know that “boot” is a shortened version of “bootstrap”. The idea being that a computer’s operating system starts itself by, well, starting itself – an odd idea that is analogous to picking yourself up by your bootstraps.

What I didn’t know is that the origin of this phrase can be traced back to the 18th Century adventures of Baron Munchausen and that, among computer folk, it was probably popularised by a 1950s’ Robert Heinlein science fiction story.

That I do know this now can be attributed to the fact that I follow the tweets of Michael Quinion, the man who writes the articles on word origins and meanings for the ever fascinating ‘World Wide Words’ site. Read the full story on bootstrapping here: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-boo2.htm.

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