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Look up computer jargon in the Terminal UNIX
There's nothing that I hate more than reading a computer-related tutorial or book and being completely frustrated by my inability to understand the subject because I can't remember a few obscure tech terms, which the author liberally injects into his writing. In this regard, Wikipedia has become my new best friend. However, I have found cases where the Wikipedia entries for certain terms contain either too little or too much information on the subject. Furthermore, when traveling with my Powerbook, I often don't have access to the Internet.

The Jargon File contains a large number of the terms that I've needed to look up. For those of you unfamiliar with the Jargon File, there's a fairly good description over at Wikipedia. There is also command-line tool to display individual entries from the file, and it's fairly easy to install and use.

[robg adds: I got this running with only a couple of snags. Once installed and functional, here's an example of what you can see:
$ jarg zork
:Zork: /zork/, n.

   The second of the great early experiments in computer fantasy gaming;
   see  {ADVENT}.  Originally  written on MIT-DM during 1977-1979, later
   distributed  with  BSD  Unix  (as a patched, sourceless RT-11 FORTRAN
   binary;   see  {retrocomputing})  and  commercialized  as  `The  Zork
   Trilogy'  by  {Infocom}.  The  FORTRAN source was later rewritten for
   portability  and  released  to  Usenet under the name "Dungeon". Both
   FORTRAN "Dungeon" and translated C versions are available at many FTP
   sites;    the    commercial    Zork    trilogy    is   available   at  See  also {grue}. You can play Zork via a
   Java Applet.
Read the rest of the hint for the how-to...]

First, you'll need the latest version of the Jargon File (4.4.7). Save this file to a location on the hard drive where it is unlikely to be removed or renamed. Next, save the jarg 2.4 source to the hard drive. This command-line program was actually written for DOS, but because the programmer was nice enough to block off DOS-specific code with ifdef statements, it will compile and run with no problems on OS X. You won't need to keep the source after you compile the program, but for convenience sake, it is best to save it to the same location as the Jargon file.

Now, enter the terminal and navigate to the directory containing jarg.c, and type the following:
  sudo gcc -o /usr/bin/jarg jarg.c
The program should compile within a few seconds without displaying any messages. If you are having trouble getting the program to compile, you can download a pre-compiled version from my web space. After you have the compiled version, it must be set up to recognize the Jargon File, like so:
  jarg -i jarg447.txt
This creates a file that jarg uses to quickly find and display entries. If you later wish to use a newer version of the Jargon File, or if you move the Jargon File, you will need to run jarg with the -i flag on the new file or location. For a description of how to use the program, simply type jarg at the command-line.

[robg adds: I compiled into my ~/bin directory without any errors. Once compiled, though, I was getting errors when trying to create the index. To get the index working, I had to both use sudo and also include the full path to the Jargon File:
  sudo jarg -i /Users/robg/bin/jarg447.txt
The second problem was that, even once I got the command above to work, the output indicated that it indexed 0 words, which I was pretty sure wasn't right :). A quick look at the Jargon File with vi found the problem: the file was populated with ^M characters instead of line breaks. In the directory where I stored the Jargon File, I ran this command:
  perl -pi -e 's/\r\n?/\n/g' jarg447.txt
That's from a comment to a really old hint about Mac vs. Unix line breaks, and it converts them all in one quick pass. After converting all the ^Ms, the index creation command worked, and I now have a fully functional jarg command.]
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Look up computer jargon in the Terminal | 7 comments | Create New Account
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Look up computer jargon in the Terminal
Authored by: Anonymous on Nov 17, '04 11:37:00AM
Just type:
$ dict zork
dict searches the jargon file, among many others.
$ dict -D
Databases available:
  elements   Elements database 20001107
  web1913    Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
  wn         WordNet (r) 2.0
  gazetteer  U.S. Gazetteer (1990)
  jargon     Jargon File (4.3.0, 30 APR 2001)
  foldoc     The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (27 SEP 03)
  easton     Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
  hitchcock  Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary (late 1800's)
  devils     THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY ((C)1911 Released April 15 1993)
  world02    CIA World Factbook 2002
  vera       Virtual Entity of Relevant Acronyms (Version 1.9, June 2002)
If you only want the jargon file, you can type:
$ dict -d jargon zork

Don't have dict? Just type
$ fink install dict

Don't have fink? You really should:

[ Reply to This | # ]
Look up computer jargon in the Terminal
Authored by: MichaelBuckley on Nov 17, '04 12:36:33PM

The advantage of the jarg command over dict is that you can index any version of the jarg file that you want. As you can see in your post, the jargon file searched is version 4.3.0. The current version, released in December 2003, is 4.4.7.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Look up computer jargon in the Terminal
Authored by: outer on Nov 18, '04 06:45:18PM

Sadly POT is no longer fully supported by jarg: YMMV. I found I had to manually edit jarg447.txt to remove the letter-by-letter alphabetic indices; and then manually edit jarg.idx to remove spurious entries caused by lines beginning with ":". Sigh. I eventually ended up with 02309 unique entries.

[ Reply to This | # ]
WTF is another nifty tool albeit smaller...
Authored by: the_webmaestro on Nov 17, '04 12:03:08PM
WTF is another great tool, but appears to be smaller in scope:

  [clay@TiBook ~]$ wtf IANAL
  IANAL: I am not a lawyer

You can get it here:

Father of Jeremy Logan

[ Reply to This | # ]

Another way to force index-build
Authored by: ubi on Nov 17, '04 03:21:43PM
I compiled jarg in a private subdirectory, then moved it to /usr/local/bin/ (via sudo). I then tried to build the index, but it complained that it "Couldn't open file /usr/local/lib/jarg.idx for writing." So I did the following:
sudo touch /usr/local/lib/jarg.idx
sudo chown ubi: !$
("ubi" is my username.) Now it all works. There are many ways to solve things in Unix...

[ Reply to This | # ]
Look up computer jargon in the Terminal
Authored by: mercadal on Nov 26, '04 06:06:39PM

If you have internet access available, and want to look up terms in the Jargon File, try OmniDictionary.

Not only can it look up terms in the Jargon File, it also queries many other dictionaries, making it useful as a general purpose dictionary. Further, the sources queried can easily be singled out from one of the many available via a drop-down menu.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: sjk on Nov 27, '04 04:58:58PM

OmniDictionary can be invoked as a Service. Its default shortcut is command-= but since that too often conflicts with other shortcuts I changed it to command-control-=.

[ Reply to This | # ]