The Slashdot Report Part II: Where Does The / And The . Come From?

 This week’s column is about The Slashdot Effect, (subscription only, I’m afraid) and I’ve already started receiving mail telling me my explanation of the term Slashdot is wrong. Here’s what I wrote:

Slashdot (slashdot.org, named after the slashes and dots in a Web site address)

One reader commented:

Hi Jeremy, The slash and dot in Slashdot do NOT refer to “the slashes and dots in a Web site address.” They refer to having “root access” on a Linux (or Unix) computer, meaning godlike power to do whatever you want to do with the machine, like being an Administrator on Windows XP. Getting root access to a remote machine is the holy grail of hacking, because it means you “own” that machine. The slash and dot refer to how you would change what directory you are in when using a command-line interface.

In MS-DOS, or the command prompt in Windows XP, you might do: C:>cd c:windows

But in Unix you would do: cd /.

Hence, Slashdot.

while another slight variation:

Actually Mr Wagstaff,

slash dot is from “Unix”. The “bourne shell” command “ls” (for list) will report the contents of the Root Directory when you type “ls /.” The inverse “ls ./” reports the contents of “Here” (your current working directory).

        /. “News from the Root”

and 

        ./ “Here be News for Nerds”

Don’t worry that you didn’t get the “hidden in plain sight” meaning. Non-Nerds never do.

(I really appreciate the ‘Mr Wagstaff’ bit. Thanks). Both are interesting definitions, but are they correct? I based my definition on Slashdot’s own FAQ, which says:

 What does the name “Slashdot” mean?

“Slashdot” is a sort of obnoxious parody of a URL. When I originally registered the domain, I wanted to make the URL silly, and unpronounceable. Try reading out the full URL to http://slashdot.org and you’ll see what I mean. Of course my cocky little joke has turned around and bit me in the butt because now I am called upon constantly to tell people my URL or email address. I can’t tell you how many people respond confused “So do I spell out the ‘dot’ or is that just a period?” 

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make the other explanations wrong: Slash and dot could still refer to the Unix command, making the website name both a parody and an in joke.

09. April 2005 by jeremy
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