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Jargon used in computing

= N =

N: /N/ quant. 1. A large and indeterminate number of objects: "There were N bugs in that
   crock!" Also used in its original sense of a variable name: "This crock has N bugs, as N
   goes to infinity." (The true number of bugs is always at least N + 1.) 2. A variable whose
   value is inherited from the current context. For example, when a meal is being ordered at a
   restaurant, N may be understood to mean however many people there are at the table. From the
   remark "We'd like to order N wonton soups and a family dinner for N - 1" you can deduce that
   one person at the table wants to eat only soup, even though you don't know how many people
   there are (see {great-wall}). 3. `Nth': adj. The ordinal counterpart of N, senses #1 and #2.
   "Now for the Nth and last time..." In the specific context "Nth-year grad student", N is
   generally assumed to be at least 4, and is usually 5 or more (see {tenured graduate
   student}).  See also {{random numbers}}, {two-to-the-n}.

nailed to the wall: [like a trophy] adj. Said of a bug finally eliminated after protracted,
   and even heroic, effort.

nailing jelly: vi. See {like nailing jelly to a tree}.

na"ive: adj. Untutored in the perversities of some particular program or system; one who still
   tries to do things in an intuitive way, rather than the right way (in really good designs
   these coincide, but most designs aren't `really good' in the appropriate sense).  This is
   completely unrelated to general maturity or competence, or even competence at any other
   specific program.  It is a sad commentary on the primitive state of computing that the
   natural opposite of this term is often claimed to be `experienced user' but is really more
   like `cynical user'.

na"ive user: n. A {luser}.  Tends to imply someone who is ignorant mainly owing to
   inexperience.  When this is applied to someone who *has* experience, there is a definite
   implication of stupidity.

NAK: /nak/ [from the ASCII mnemonic for 0010101] interj. 1. On-line joke answer to {ACK}?:
   "I'm not here." 2. On-line answer to a request for chat: "I'm not available." 3. Used to
   politely interrupt someone to tell them you don't understand their point or that they have
   suddenly stopped making sense. See {ACK}, sense 3. "And then, after we recode the project
   in COBOL...."  "Nak, Nak, Nak!  I thought I heard you say COBOL!"

nano: /nan'oh/ [CMU: from `nanosecond'] n. A brief period of time.  "Be with you in a nano"
   means you really will be free shortly, i.e., implies what mainstream people mean by "in a
   jiffy" (whereas the hackish use of `jiffy' is quite different ---  see {jiffy}).

nano-: [SI: the next quantifier below {micro-}; meaning * 10^{-9}] pref. Smaller than {micro-},
   and used in the same rather loose and connotative way. Thus, one has {{nanotechnology}}
   (coined by hacker K. Eric Drexler) by analogy with `microtechnology'; and a few machine
   architectures have a `nanocode' level below `microcode'.  Tom Duff at Bell Labs has also
   pointed out that "Pi seconds is a nanocentury". See also {{quantifiers}}, {pico-},
   {nanoacre}, {nanobot}, {nanocomputer}, {nanofortnight}.

nanoacre: /nan'oh-ay`kr/ n. A unit (about 2 mm square) of real estate on a VLSI chip. The term
   gets its giggle value from the fact that VLSI nanoacres have costs in the same range as real
   acres once one figures in design and fabrication-setup costs.

nanobot: /nan'oh-bot/ n. A robot of microscopic proportions, presumably built by means of
   {{nanotechnology}}. As yet, only used informally (and speculatively!). Also called a

nanocomputer: /nan'oh-k*m-pyoo'tr/ n. A computer whose switching elements are molecular in
   size. Designs for mechanical nanocomputers which use single-molecule sliding rods for their
   logic have been proposed.  The controller for a {nanobot} would be a nanocomputer.

nanofortnight: [Adelaide University] n. 1 fortnight * 10^-9, or about 1.2 msec. This unit was
   used largely by students doing undergraduate practicals.  See {microfortnight},
   {attoparsec}, and {micro-}.

nanotechnology:: /nan'-oh-tek-no`l*-jee/ n. A hypothetical fabrication technology in which
   objects are designed and built with the individual specification and placement of each
   separate atom. The first unequivocal nanofabrication experiments are taking place now
   (1990), for example with the deposition of individual xenon atoms on a nickel substrate to
   spell the logo of a certain very large computer company. Nanotechnology has been a hot topic
   in the hacker subculture ever since the term was coined by K. Eric Drexler in his book
   `Engines of Creation', where he predicted that nanotechnology could give rise to replicating
   assemblers, permitting an exponential growth of productivity and personal wealth. See also
   {blue goo}, {gray goo}, {nanobot}.

nastygram: /nas'tee-gram/ n. 1. A protocol packet or item of email (the latter is also called
   a {letterbomb}) that takes advantage of misfeatures or security holes on the target system
   to do untoward things. 2. Disapproving mail, esp. from a {net.god}, pursuant to a violation
   of {netiquette} or a complaint about failure to correct some mail- or news-transmission
   problem. Compare {shitogram}. 3. A status report from an unhappy, and probably picky,
   customer. "What'd Corporate say in today's nastygram?" 4. [deprecated] An error reply by
   mail from a {daemon}; in particular, a {bounce message}.

Nathan Hale: n. An asterisk (see also {splat}, {{ASCII}}). Oh, you want an etymology?
   Notionally, from "I regret that I have only one asterisk for my country!", a misquote of
   the famous remark uttered by Nathan Hale just before he was hanged. Hale was a (failed) spy
   for the rebels in the American War of Independence.

nature: n. See {has the X nature}.

neat hack: n. 1. A clever technique.  2. A brilliant practical joke, where neatness is
   correlated with cleverness, harmlessness, and surprise value. Example: the Caltech Rose Bowl
   card display switch (see appendix A).  See {hack}.

neep-neep: /neep neep/ [onomatopoeic, from New York SF fandom] n. One who is fascinated by
   computers.  More general than {hacker}, as it need not imply more skill than is required to
   boot games on a PC.  The derived noun `neep-neeping' applies specifically to the long
   conversations about computers that tend to develop in the corners at most SF-convention
   parties.  Fandom has a related proverb to the effect that "Hacking is a conversational
   black hole!".

neophilia: /nee`oh-fil'-ee-*/ n. The trait of being excited and pleased by novelty. Common
   trait of most hackers, SF fans, and members of several other connected leading-edge
   subcultures, including the pro-technology `Whole Earth' wing of the ecology movement, space
   activists, many members of Mensa, and the Discordian/neo-pagan underground.  All these
   groups overlap heavily and (where evidence is available) seem to share characteristic hacker
   tropisms for science fiction, {{Music}}, and {{oriental food}}.

net.-: /net dot/ pref. [USENET] Prefix used to describe people and events related to USENET.
   From the time before the {Great Renaming}, when most non-local newsgroups had names
   beginning `net.'.  Includes {net.god}s, `net.goddesses' (various charismatic net.women with
   circles of on-line admirers), `net.lurkers' (see {lurker}), `net.person', `net.parties'
   (a synonym for {boink}, sense 2), and many similar constructs.  See also {net.police}.

net.god: /net god/ n. Used to refer to anyone who satisfies some combination of the following
   conditions: has been visible on USENET for more than 5 years, ran one of the original
   backbone sites, moderated an important newsgroup, wrote news software, or knows Gene, Mark,
   Rick, Mel, Henry, Chuq, and Greg personally. See {demigod}. Net.goddesses such as Rissa or
   the Slime Sisters have (so far) been distinguished more by personality than by authority.

net.personality: /net per`sn-al'-*-tee/ n. Someone who has made a name for him or herself on
   {USENET}, through either longevity or attention-getting posts, but doesn't meet the other
   requirements of {net.god}hood.

net.police: /net-p*-lees'/ n. (var. `net.cops') Those USENET readers who feel it is their
   responsibility to pounce on and {flame} any posting which they regard as offensive or in
   violation of their understanding of {netiquette}.  Generally used sarcastically or
   pejoratively.  Also spelled `net police'. See also {net.-}, {code police}.

nethack: /net'hak/ [UNIX] n. A dungeon game similar to {rogue} but more elaborate, distributed
   in C source over {USENET} and very popular at UNIX sites and on PC-class machines (nethack
   is probably the most widely distributed of the freeware dungeon games). The earliest
   versions, written by Jay Fenlason and later considerably enhanced by Andries Brouwer, were
   simply called `hack'.  The name changed when maintenance was taken over by a group of
   hackers originally organized by Mike Stephenson.

netiquette: /net'ee-ket/ or /net'i-ket/ [portmanteau from "network etiquette"] n. Conventions
   of politeness recognized on {USENET}, such as avoidance of cross-posting to inappropriate
   groups or refraining from commercial pluggery on the net.

netnews: /net'n[y]ooz/ n. 1. The software that makes {USENET} run. 2. The content of USENET.
   "I read netnews right after my mail most mornings."

netrock: /net'rok/ [IBM] n. A {flame}; used esp. on VNET, IBM's internal corporate network.

network address: n. (also `net address') As used by hackers, means an address on `the' network
   (see {network, the}; this is almost always a {bang path} or {{Internet address}}).  Such an
   address is essential if one wants to be to be taken seriously by hackers; in particular,
   persons or organizations that claim to understand, work with, sell to, or recruit from among
   hackers but *don't* display net addresses are quietly presumed to be clueless poseurs and
   mentally flushed (see {flush}, sense 4). Hackers often put their net addresses on their
   business cards and wear them prominently in contexts where they expect to meet other hackers
   face-to-face (see also {{science-fiction fandom}}).  This is mostly functional, but is also
   a signal that one identifies with hackerdom (like lodge pins among Masons or tie-dyed
   T-shirts among Grateful Dead fans). Net addresses are often used in email text as a more
   concise substitute for personal names; indeed, hackers may come to know each other quite
   well by network names without ever learning each others' `legal' monikers. See also
   {sitename}, {domainist}.

network meltdown: n. A state of complete network overload; the network equivalent of
   {thrash}ing. This may be induced by a {Chernobyl packet}. See also {broadcast storm},
   {kamikaze packet}.

network, the: n. 1. The union of all the major noncommercial, academic, and hacker-oriented
   networks, such as Internet, the old ARPANET, NSFnet, {BITNET}, and the virtual UUCP and
   {USENET} `networks', plus the corporate in-house networks and commercial time-sharing
   services (such as CompuServe) that gateway to them. A site is generally considered `on the
   network' if it can be reached through some combination of Internet-style (@-sign) and UUCP
   (bang-path) addresses.  See {bang path}, {{Internet address}}, {network address}. 2. A
   fictional conspiracy of libertarian hacker-subversives and anti-authoritarian
   monkeywrenchers described in Robert Anton Wilson's novel `Schr"odinger's Cat', to which many
   hackers have subsequently decided they belong (this is an example of {ha ha only serious}).
   In sense 1, `network' is often abbreviated to `net'. "Are you on the net?" is a frequent
   question when hackers first meet face to face, and "See you on the net!" is a frequent

New Jersey: [primarily Stanford/Silicon Valley] adj. Brain-damaged or of poor design. This
   refers to the allegedly wretched quality of such software as C, C++, and UNIX (which
   originated at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey). "This compiler bites the bag, but what
   can you expect from a compiler designed in New Jersey?" Compare {Berkeley Quality Software}.
   See also {UNIX conspiracy}.

New Testament: n. [C programmers] The second edition of K&R's `The C Programming Language'
   (Prentice-Hall, 1988; ISBN 0-13-110362-8), describing ANSI Standard C.  See {K&R}.

newbie: /n[y]oo'bee/ n. [orig. from British public-school and military slang variant of `new
   boy'] A USENET neophyte. This term surfaced in the {newsgroup} talk.bizarre but is now in
   wide use. Criteria for being considered a newbie vary wildly; a person can be called a
   newbie in one newsgroup while remaining a respected regular in another. The label `newbie'
   is sometimes applied as a serious insult to a person who has been around USENET for a long
   time but who carefully hides all evidence of having a clue.  See {BIFF}.

newgroup wars: /n[y]oo'groop wohrz/ [USENET] n. The salvos of dueling `newgroup' and `rmgroup'
   messages sometimes exchanged by persons on opposite sides of a dispute over whether a
   {newsgroup} should be created net-wide. These usually settle out within a week or two as it
   becomes clear whether the group has a natural constituency (usually, it doesn't). At times,
   especially in the completely anarchic alt hierarchy, the names of newsgroups themselves
   become a form of comment or humor; e.g., the spinoff of alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork
   from in early 1990, or any number of specialized abuse groups named after
   particularly notorious {flamer}s, e.g., alt.weemba.

newline: /n[y]oo'li:n/ n. 1. [techspeak, primarily UNIX] The ASCII LF character (0001010),
   used under {{UNIX}} as a text line terminator.  A Bell-Labs-ism rather than a Berkeleyism;
   interestingly (and unusually for UNIX jargon), it is said to have originally been an IBM
   usage.  (Though the term `newline' appears in ASCII standards, it never caught on in the
   general computing world before UNIX).  2. More generally, any magic character, character
   sequence, or operation (like Pascal's writeln procedure) required to terminate a text
   record or separate lines.  See {crlf}, {terpri}.

NeWS: /nee'wis/, /n[y]oo'is/ or /n[y]ooz/ [acronym; the `Network Window System'] n. The road
   not taken in window systems, an elegant PostScript-based environment that would almost
   certainly have won the standards war with {X} if it hadn't been {proprietary} to Sun
   Microsystems.  There is a lesson here that too many software vendors haven't yet heeded.
   Many hackers insist on the two-syllable pronunciations above as a way of distinguishing
   NeWS from {news} (the {netnews} software).

news: n. See {netnews}.

newsfroup: // [USENET] n. Silly synonym for {newsgroup}, originally a typo but now in regular
   use on USENET's talk.bizarre and other lunatic-fringe groups.

newsgroup: [USENET] n. One of {USENET}'s huge collection of topic groups or {fora}. Usenet
   groups can be `unmoderated' (anyone can post) or `moderated' (submissions are automatically
   directed to a moderator, who edits or filters and then posts the results).  Some newsgroups
   have parallel {mailing list}s for Internet people with no netnews access, with postings to
   the group automatically propagated to the list and vice versa.  Some moderated groups
   (especially those which are actually gatewayed Internet mailing lists) are distributed as
   `digests', with groups of postings periodically collected into a single large posting with
   an index.
   Among the best-known are comp.lang.c (the C-language forum), comp.arch (on computer
   architectures), comp.unix.wizards (for UNIX wizards), rec.arts.sf-lovers (for
   science-fiction fans), and talk.politics.misc (miscellaneous political discussions and

nickle: /ni'kl/ [from `nickel', common name for the U.S. 5-cent coin] n. A {nybble} + 1; 5
   bits. Reported among developers for Mattel's GI 1600 (the Intellivision games processor), a
   chip with 16-bit-wide RAM but 10-bit-wide ROM. See also {deckle}.

night mode: n. See {phase} (of people).

Nightmare File System: n. Pejorative hackerism for Sun's Network File System (NFS). In any
   nontrivial network of Suns where there is a lot of NFS cross-mounting, when one Sun goes
   down, the others often freeze up.  Some machine tries to access the down one, and (getting
   no response) repeats indefinitely.  This causes it to appear dead to some messages (what is
   actually happening is that it is locked up in what should have been a brief excursion to a
   higher {spl} level).  Then another machine tries to reach either the down machine or the
   pseudo-down machine, and itself becomes pseudo-down. The first machine to discover the down
   one is now trying both to access the down one and to respond to the pseudo-down one, so it
   is even harder to reach.  This snowballs very fast, and soon the entire network of machines
   is frozen --- the user can't even abort the file access that started the problem!  (ITS
   partisans are apt to cite this as proof of UNIX's alleged bogosity; ITS had a working
   NFS-like shared file system with none of these problems in the early 1970s.)  See also
   {broadcast storm}.

NIL: /nil/ [from LISP terminology for `false'] No. Used in reply to a question, particularly
   one asked using the `-P' convention.  See {T}.

NMI: /N-M-I/ n. Non-Maskable Interrupt. An IRQ 7 on the PDP-11 or 680[01234]0; the NMI line on
   an 80{88,[1234]}86. In contrast with a {priority interrupt} (which might be ignored,
   although that is unlikely), an NMI is *never* ignored.

no-op: /noh'op/ alt. NOP /nop/ [no operation] n. 1. (also v.) A machine instruction that does
   nothing (sometimes used in assembler-level programming as filler for data or patch areas,
   or to overwrite code to be removed in binaries). See also {JFCL}. 2. A person who
   contributes nothing to a project, or has nothing going on upstairs, or both. As in "He's a
   no-op." 3. Any operation or sequence of operations with no effect, such as circling the
   block without finding a parking space, or putting money into a vending machine and having
   it fall immediately into the coin-return box, or asking someone for help and being told to
   go away.  "Oh, well, that was a no-op."  Hot-and-sour soup (see {great-wall}) that is
   insufficiently either is `no-op soup'; so is wonton soup if everybody else is having

noddy: /nod'ee/ [UK: from the children's books] adj. 1. Small and un-useful, but demonstrating
   a point. Noddy programs are often written by people learning a new language or system. The
   archetypal noddy program is {hello, world}. Noddy code may be used to demonstrate a feature
   or bug of a compiler. May be used of real hardware or software to imply that it isn't worth
   using. "This editor's a bit noddy."  2. A program that is more or less instant to produce.
   In this use, the term does not necessarily connote uselessness, but describes a {hack}
   sufficiently trivial that it can be written and debugged while carrying on (and during the
   space of) a normal conversation. "I'll just throw together a noddy {awk} script to dump all
   the first fields." In North America this might be called a {mickey mouse program}. See {toy

NOMEX underwear: /noh'meks uhn'-der-weir/ [USENET] n. Syn. {asbestos longjohns}, used mostly
   in auto-related mailing lists and newsgroups. NOMEX underwear is an actual product available
   on the racing equipment market, used as a fire resistance measure and required in some
   racing series.

non-optimal solution: n. (also `sub-optimal solution') An astoundingly stupid way to do
   something. This term is generally used in deadpan sarcasm, as its impact is greatest when
   the person speaking looks completely serious.  Compare {stunning}.  See also {Bad Thing}.

nonlinear: adj. [scientific computation] 1. Behaving in an erratic and unpredictable fashion.
   When used to describe the behavior of a machine or program, it suggests that said machine
   or program is being forced to run far outside of design specifications. This behavior may
   be induced by unreasonable inputs, or may be triggered when a more mundane bug sends the
   computation far off from its expected course.  2. When describing the behavior of a person,
   suggests a tantrum or a {flame}.  "When you talk to Bob, don't mention the drug problem or
   he'll go nonlinear for hours."  In this context, `go nonlinear' connotes `blow up out of
   proportion' (proportion connotes linearity).

nontrivial: adj. Requiring real thought or significant computing power. Often used as an
   understated way of saying that a problem is quite difficult or impractical, or even
   entirely unsolvable ("Proving P=NP is nontrivial"). The preferred emphatic form is
   `decidedly nontrivial'.  See {trivial}, {uninteresting}, {interesting}.

notwork: /not'werk/ n. A network, when it is acting {flaky} or is {down}. Compare {nyetwork}.
   Said at IBM to have orig. referred to a particular period of flakiness on IBM's VNET
   corporate network, ca. 1988; but there are independent reports of the term from elsewhere.

NP-: /N-P/ pref. Extremely.  Used to modify adjectives describing a level or quality of
   difficulty; the connotation is often `more so than it should be' (NP-complete problems all
   seem to be very hard, but so far no one has found a good a priori reason that they should
   be.) "Getting this algorithm to perform correctly in every case is NP-annoying."  This is
   generalized from the computer-science terms `NP-hard' and `NP-complete'.  NP is the set of
   Nondeterministic-Polynomial algorithms, those that can be completed by a nondeterministic
   Turing machine in an amount of time that is a polynomial function of the size of the input;
   a solution for one NP-complete problem would solve all the others.

NSA line eater: n. The National Security Agency trawling program sometimes assumed to be
   reading {USENET} for the U.S. Government's spooks.  Most hackers describe it as a mythical
   beast, but some believe it actually exists, more aren't sure, and many believe in acting as
   though it exists just in case.  Some netters put loaded phrases like `KGB', `Uzi', `nuclear
   materials', `Palestine', `cocaine', and `assassination' in their {sig block}s in a (probably
   futile) attempt to confuse and overload the creature. The {GNU} version of {EMACS} actually
   has a command that randomly inserts a bunch of insidious anarcho-verbiage into your edited
   There is a mainstream variant of this myth involving a `Trunk Line Monitor', which
   supposedly used speech recognition to extract words from telephone trunks. This one was
   making the rounds in the late 1970s, spread by people who had no idea of then-current
   technology or the storage, signal-processing, or speech recognition needs of such a project.
   On the basis of mass-storage costs alone it would have been cheaper to hire 50 high-school
   students and just let them listen in. Speech-recognition technology can't do this job even
   now (1991), and almost certainly won't in this millennium, either. The peak of silliness
   came with a letter to an alternative paper in New Haven, Connecticut, laying out the
   factoids of this Big Brotherly affair. The letter writer then revealed his actual agenda by
   offering --- at an amazing low price, just this once, we take VISA and MasterCard --- a
   scrambler guaranteed to daunt the Trunk Trawler and presumably allowing the would-be
   Baader-Meinhof gangs of the world to get on with their business.

nuke: vt. 1. To intentionally delete the entire contents of a given directory or storage
   volume.  "On UNIX, `rm -r /usr' will nuke everything in the usr filesystem."  Never used for
   accidental deletion. Oppose {blow away}. 2. Syn. for {dike}, applied to smaller things such
   as files, features, or code sections. Often used to express a final verdict. "What do you
   want me to do with that 80-meg {wallpaper} file?"  "Nuke it."  3. Used of processes as well
   as files; nuke is a frequent verbal alias for `kill -9' on UNIX.  4. On IBM PCs, a bug that
   results in {fandango on core} can trash the operating system, including the FAT (the in-core
   copy of the disk block chaining information). This can utterly scramble attached disks,
   which are then said to have been `nuked'.  This term is also used of analogous lossages on
   Macintoshes and other micros without memory protection.

number-crunching: n. Computations of a numerical nature, esp. those that make extensive use of
   floating-point numbers.  The only thing {Fortrash} is good for.  This term is in widespread
   informal use outside hackerdom and even in mainstream slang, but has additional hackish
   connotations: namely, that the computations are mindless and involve massive use of {brute
   force}.  This is not always {evil}, esp. if it involves ray tracing or fractals or some
   other use that makes {pretty pictures}, esp. if such pictures can be used as {wallpaper}.
   See also {crunch}.

numbers: [scientific computation] n. Output of a computation that may not be significant
   results but at least indicate that the program is running. May be used to placate
   management, grant sponsors, etc. `Making numbers' means running a program because output
   --- any output, not necessarily meaningful output --- is needed as a demonstration of
   progress.  See {pretty pictures}, {math-out}, {social science number}.

NUXI problem: /nuk'see pro'bl*m/ n. This refers to the problem of transferring data between
   machines with differing byte-order.  The string `UNIX' might look like `NUXI' on a machine
   with a different `byte sex' (e.g., when transferring data from a {little-endian} to a
   {big-endian}, or vice-versa).  See also {middle-endian}, {swab}, and {bytesexual}.

nybble: /nib'l/ (alt. `nibble') [from v. `nibble' by analogy with `bite' => `byte'] n. Four
   bits; one {hex} digit; a half-byte. Though `byte' is now techspeak, this useful relative is
   still jargon.  Compare {{byte}}, {crumb}, {tayste}, {dynner}; see also {bit}, {nickle},
   {deckle}.  Apparently this spelling is uncommon in Commonwealth Hackish, as British
   orthography suggests the pronunciation /ni:'bl/.

nyetwork: /nyet'werk/ [from Russian `nyet' = no] n. A network, when it is acting {flaky} or is
   {down}.  Compare {notwork}.

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This page (jargonn.html) was last modified on Sunday 27/01/2013