IT Jargon – Common Terms Explained

In the great movie, "Philadelphia," Denzel Washington playing an attorney brings the courtroom to a standstill when he pointedly directs a witness, "Now explain this to me like I'm a four-year-old."

Don't you wish you could do that when you're an innocent bystander listening to a conversation among IT professionals? The jargon will make you want to scream.

So in the interests of four-year-olds everywhere, we present these common IT words and phrases and explanations that a pre-schooler could understand.


It's really not a cloud. Think of it as a library for data – but a library in which you can borrow the book from anywhere at any given time, provided you have a device (phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) that will allow you to connect to this library. Your cloud can be a public library or a private library. You can get your own data or data that belongs to your company or group. But there are no precipitation particles in this cloud.


Everyone's heard, "There's an app for that" but do you know what the means? Think of the toolbox on your workbench at home. There are a lot of apps in that box. And there are apps within apps. An app is simply a tool that performs a specific function. You might have a dozen screw drivers – slot head, Phillips heads – and variations of those, long-shank slotted, short-shank Phillips. Your apps are your tools in that box. You need them for a specific job and if you don't have the right one, you're off to Home Depot (or the Apple Store as the case may be.)


You might think you know this one because everyone has "opened a box with software in it." But at its core, software is the main transactional language of computers. And like language, different parts fit together in a way that achieves meaning or accomplishes an objective. Subject-verb-object makes a sentence. Various instructions in software help you achieve a transaction. For instance, Lexus-Nexus is the main transactional software for the legal profession. Quickbooks is used by accounting professionals. Every professional has transactional software, but even software as universal as Microsoft Word is transactional. It help you achieve communication with other parties.


Can you put 4 inches of water through a 2-inch pipe? Of course not. It doesn't have the bandwidth. This is a simple term that, in computing terms, means how much and how fast you can move information through the pipe. A lot of factors determine how much data is sent through the pipe and received at the other end, but the maximum bandwidth at both ends is what you're looking to achieve.


Like a lot of terminology, this one has grown a few meanings since it started. At first, it referred to an Internet program that could help you determine if a specific Internet address was working. It worked by sending information to the address and waiting for a reply, called a "PING." Nowadays, people use it to mean any kind of messaging – such as email or text messaging. "I pinged him" or "Ping me when you have a chance" are very common. But that's not how it started.


The "G" stands for nothing more than "generation" in relation to wireless service. As in most generation updates, each iteration gets better. In this case, that means faster. But 5G is also supposed to work with a broader range of services, such as broadcast services and emergency communications during disasters. 5G also would help devices communicate with each other directly rather than relying on a network base station.  But for now, the G means you can move about freely and still have a connection to the Internet.


What you use instead of 4G? Well, sometimes. WiFi connects your device to a specific local area wireless headquarters. Stray too far from home and you lose your connection. Warning: WiFi can be unsecured unless you have a password-protected connection.


In computing this refers to something akin to two people sitting at a coffee shop having a conversation. That's real time communication. Most systems don't work that way. They receive. Process. Respond. Real time responses in the computer world guarantee responses within millisecond. When does a computing system need to work in "real time?" How about a CAT scan? Can you think of more? Sometimes those milliseconds count

So now you're up to speed on a few of the key terms in the IT world. You can sit inside the IT lunch circle and stay up to speed. But if the talk goes over your head, just nod your head. In real time.

May 13, 2015 | Pat Bramhall