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Computer jargon explained - a glossary for beginners

01 September 2015 ( 25 February 2020 )

Computer jargon can sound like a foreign language - utterly incomprehensible. So we have translated the most common and useful terms into plain English.

Computer graphic
With computer jargon, you only need to understand the basics to get by

What does computer jargon mean?

The term computer jargon relates to the words and nouns used to refer to computers, computing activities and related topics. Using these words enables clear communication around computer related issues and activity. Essentially, computer jargon is used to determine and identify technical faults, problem solving and software compatibility.

“You have to clear your cache, defrag your hard drive and start storing your data in the cloud.” 

If you’re up to speed with your computer jargon, that might be helpful advice. If not, you might worry about the speaker’s sanity. 

A complete list of computer jargon could fill a dictionary, but most of us only need the basics to get by. 

Here are some of the most common terms you’re likely to hear or come across online - all explained in clear and simple English.


Adware is any free software that contains ads to generate revenue. Unlike malware (see below), adware can be annoying but does not endanger your computer.


An antivirus program is a software program that protects your computer against infection by a virus (see ‘Malware’ below). 

For more information about the importance of installing an antivirus program on your computer, check out our tips for keeping your computer in top condition.


Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that can be sent over a network or modem. Measured in “bps” or bits per second, bandwidth is a bit like a road and the bits are like cars on the road. A two-lane road can’t carry much traffic and is slow. A six-lane freeway is much faster.


A cache is a storage area that gives you speedy access to information you’ve recently used. If you’ve ever noticed that the second time you visit a website it seems to load faster, it’s probably because some of the information on the website has been ‘cached’ somewhere on your computer or in the cloud (see below).


The ‘cloud’ is the remote server or network of servers you connect with when using any number of internet services, including your email or social media sites. Free and paid services allow you to work or store data ‘in the cloud’ instead of on your personal computer. 

Want to know more? Read our guide to cloud computing.


Cookies are small amounts of text websites often store in your internet browser to identify you when you return to their sites. 

Learn more about cookies and what they do


Defrag is short for ‘defragment’. Over time, information on your computer becomes ‘fragmented’ or moved, which slows your computer down. When you use the defrag tool in your computer, it moves them back into more easily accessed clusters. 

For more information about defragging, read our guide to keeping your computer in top condition.


The word gigabyte, along with its cousins megabyte and terabyte, refer to the amount of space your computer, mobile phone or hard drive has to store data – otherwise known as its memory. A megabyte is 1,000,000 bytes; a gigabyte is 1000 megabytes (or ‘megs’); and a terabyte is 1000 gigabytes (or ‘gigs’). In other words, lots of space.

Hot spot or hotspot

A hot spot or hotspot is a physical location – like a café – that offers a WiFi connection to visitors. To keep outsiders from intruding on the connection, you usually need to obtain a password to connect your mobile device to the WiFi service.


Malware is short for malicious software that can damage your computer. Different types of malware include:

Viruses, which can delete information on your computer

• Spyware that gathers information from your computer and passes it on to another computer

• Ghostware is a stealthy piece of code that’s been cloaked, and so is used by criminals to sneak undetected on to your computer where it then hides other malicious code

• Blastware is designed to automatically destroy or disable a system if you find it on your computer

• Ransomware could lock your computer or hide important information to you until you give the criminals a fee to return it


Phishing is the practice of sending emails that look as though they’re sent from a reputable company to trick you into revealing personal information like passwords or credit card numbers.

• Spear-phishing is like phishing, but targeted to trick you personally. Spear-phishing might be even harder to spot, as the email could even be one you’re expecting to receive.

Whaling is like spear-fishing, but targets a high-profile mark, like a CEO of a company, in order to get hold of the company’s financial details.


When you purchase a computer, your sales assistant is bound to tell you how much ‘RAM’ (pronounced ram, like the sheep) the computer has. RAM stands for Random Access Memory. It’s important because when you use your computer, RAM gives you quick access to ‘random’ information. The more RAM a computer has, the faster it will run.

10 signs your computer has a virus

Is there another term you aren't familiar with and think should be in this guide? Email us on!

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.