What The Heck Is A Dongle?

Business Insider

This week two people in the tech industry lost their jobs because of jokes gone awry at a conference.

A couple of male developers were joking around about "big" dongles. When a female developer evangelist heard their jokes she tweeted it out with their photo, complaining that they were being rude. One of those developers lost his job, and then eventually, so did the evangelist.

In the developers' defense, the word "dongle" is funny. It's nearly impossible to say without giggling or making childish jokes.

Some people in our office had heard the word before, but didn't know what a dongle is. Merriam-Webster defines a dongle as a small device that plugs into a computer and serves as an adapter or a security measure to enable the use of certain software.

The term, dongle, was rumored to have originated from a 1992 advertisement for Rainbow Technologies. The ad claimed the word dongle was derived from the name "Don Gall." Though untrue, this has given rise to an urban myth, we learned from Wikipedia.

According to the University of Pennsylvania's language log, the earliest citation of the word dongle began appearing in 1982:

1982  MicroComputer Printout  Jan. 19/2 The word ‘dongle’ has been appearing in many articles with reference to security systems for computer software [refers to alleged coinage in 1980].

But as the term 'dongle' became more widespread its meaning changed from strictly a scientific term to mainstream. UPenn clarifies:

The current meaning for  dongle  seems to be something like "a self-contained device that plugs into a  port on a computer that is normally used for connections to a separate external device". Thus in addition to the original serial-port dongles, and the USB dongles that Suzanne (and Stephen Fry) wrote about, there are also  "firewire dongles" , and presumably there could be dongles for any other sort of port as well.  

Simply put, dongles are computer peripherals that plug into your computer like a USB flash drive or a cord connecting a computer with a printer for example.  Dongles are also huge in the video game world because they allow consoles to have added features like increased audio quality.

Before USB was the standard in attaching PC peripherals, there were tons of different dongles that came in various shapes and sizes.




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