I do not think it means what you think it means

As computers and internet technology have become mainstream, technology terms have entered the language. But the translation is not always accurate. As a professional pedant, it makes me turn purple the number of times I hear people misusing the following two terms:

1. Hard drive

What a lot of people think it means: The box part of a desktop computer.

What it really means: A smaller component inside the box that is used to store data permanently.

Why people get it wrong: If the box part of the computer has an official name, it is the ‘system unit’. You can see why it doesn’t grab anyone. Whereas calling the thing a ‘hard drive’ sounds about right to anybody who doesn’t know what’s actually inside one.

2. Screen saver

What a lot of people think it means: The image you put on the background of your computer’s virtual desktop.

What it really means: A piece of software that puts moving images or animation on your screen after you haven’t been using your computer for a while.

If computer monitors are left for too long with the same image or text in the same place, they can suffer ‘phosphor burn’. The light-emitting phosphor compounds in screens (especially old-fashioned monochromatic cathode ray tube screens) lose their brightness through use. If a screen always displays the same text in the same spot, that area will eventually become burnt in, leaving a faded ‘ghost’ image of that text.

Screen savers were designed to prevent this by placing an always-moving image on the screen.

Why people get it wrong: Aside from falling into the same category of ‘stuff you can put on your computer screen to personalise it’, these two things don’t have a lot in common. Modern LCD screens don’t suffer from phosphor burn (although plasma and OLED screens do), so actual screen savers aren’t particularly popular anymore. It’s all a bit of a mystery.

OK, so those are my two. What other tech malapropisms boil your blood?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. snoscillator says:

    What really boils my blood is someone telling you that there’s something wrong with their computer / software, and then NOT ACTUALLY BOTHERING TO DESCRIBE THE FUCKING PROBLEM. Yes, that’s right I’M PSYCHIC; DON’T CALL ME, I’LL CALL YOU.

  2. Kristen says:

    Glad I got those 2 right…
    But… Can I call the box a CPU?

  3. Josh says:

    Unfortunately no. The CPU (central processing unit) is the main processor chip inside the box, not the box. It’s really small.

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