End of ADS-L Digest - 22 Feb 1998 to 23 Feb 1998
From: Automatic digest processor (2/23/98)
To: Recipients of ADS-L digests
ADS-L Digest - 21 Feb 1998 to 22 Feb 1998 98-02-23 00:00:25
There are 5 messages totalling 357 lines in this issue.
Topics of the day:
3. Ice cream cone; Pop (soda)
4. Sky line; Ragged edge; Muckers; Psycho; Yellow dog
5. Windy City; Magic City
Date: Sat, 21 Feb 1998 23:09:36 -0800
From: Gabor Fencsik gabor[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]WELL.COM
Subject: Re: "cookies"
Greg Downing forwards a question from the Linguist List:
can anyone tell me anything about the etymology resp. the sense
development of the computer term "cookie"? One definition I found in
"Among The New Words" in American Speech says:
"Cookies are bits of computer code that allow a Web page's operators
to collect information about each user for later reference." ,
but I still can't understand the motivation for calling this a
cookie. It must be a metaphorical meaning, but what kind of meaning
elements are being transferred here?
The word "cookie" in computer jargon is shorthand for "magic cookie".
The UNIX manual pages, published initially in the seventies, and gradually
swelling to massive volumes through the eighties and nineties, were
liberally sprinkled with "magic cookies" and "magic numbers". I guess the
terminology is rooted in the various computerized versions of dungeons-and-
dragons type games, played by bleary-eyed programmers to fill up the time
while their programs were being compiled, or to relieve the stress after
a night of strenuous hacking.
Technically speaking, the "magic cookies" and "magic numbers" were bit
patterns found in a certain place within a file. They were used to
identify the type of the file in question. The "magic cookie" was
checked by computer programs to make sure the file was of the kind the
program was allowed to operate on. Thus, a tape archiver program
was only allowed to touch archive files, a loader was only allowed to
load executable files, and so forth. The bit patterns constituting
the "magic cookie" were chosen arbitrarily, but when they were absent,
nothing worked. That's why they were "magic".
Thus, the original meaning of "magic cookie" involved information
passing from a file to a program reading the file. Later, the concept
was extended to information being passed from a program to another program
running on a different machine. Programs send each other "magic cookies"
primarily for purposes of authentication. When you are browsing the
New York Times web page, for example, the web server at the NY Times
sends a cookie to you browser to identify you as a properly logged-on
customer. Without the cookie, they would have to have you log in every
time you click on a link on their webpage, an annoyance up with which
we would not put.
I don't know when "magic cookie" began to be shortened to "cookie"
tout simple, but I believe this is a relatively recent development.
The question could be settled by searching the archives of the many
UNIX-related discussion groups on Usenet.