The mystery words on your screen


You know the row of mysterious F's numbered 1 through 12 at the top of your keyboard. These are the function keys, or as some engineers call them, "the guardian angels of the keyboard." If this is your first time noticing our functional friends, you're not alone! In common usage the word function refers to the purpose for which something is designed. On the keyboard, however, the function keys can accomplish anything from summoning help (F1) to accessing hidden recovery gateways (F11).


Perhaps one of the strangest acronyms on this list, USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, or a standard connection socket for computers and other electronic equipment. The "Universal Serial Bus" was developed in the mid-1990s so that people could share information regardless of the type of machine they used.


MP3 is one of the most loaded terms on this list in that these three characters represent six words and two numbers. The "M" in MP3 stands for "Motion Picture Experts Group," the inventors of the device that has devastated so many CD and vinyl collections. The MP3 enables files to be compressed to ten percent or less of their original size for storage on any number of electronic devices. In full, MP3 stands for "MPEG-1 Audio Layer-3," but depending on your music library, it probably stands for a lot more.


Coined in the 1990s, URL stands for "Uniform Resource Locator," a sort of electrical thumbprint for specifying addresses on the Internet. URLs begin with the access protocol, http://, followed by the domain name "www.location for which you are" and end in .com, .org, .net, .edu or many other three-letter suffixes.


This external piece of hardware began as a spyware device, attaching to a computer to combat software theft, but its hilarious name may have contributed to its current obsolescence. Popular in 1993, by 1998 dongles were widely out of fashion as software security improved, and the term now refers to any physical electronic key required for a program to function. In common usage however, "dongle" has been lumped in with "widget" and "gizmo" and all the fiddly little bits that tend to fall off the desk and get lost in the carpet.


The 404 message, also known as the 404 error, is the bane of any web surfer's existence. It means "file not found," indicating that the poor, well-meaning user has tried to access a web page that is no longer available. In other words, it means they've clicked on a broken link. The first 4 indicates a client error, such as a mistyped URL. The middle 0 refers to a general syntax error, and the last 4 denotes a specific error in wide world of possible computer problems. In tech slang, 404 has become an insult or complaint, indicating that someone is oblivious, clueless or inept.


It's a beautiful day when technology finds a way to bring correct grammar into our daily lives: enter, the "tabulator key." This magical button, known as the "tab key" for short, sits right above the "caps lock" button on the keyboard. The key originated on typewriters to aid and standardize the indentation of paragraphs and lists. To tabulate is to arrange data in a systematic or condensed form. The tab key allows any typist to design their own personal amount of indentation.