The Funniest Word in the Tech Industry: Dongle

In an industry where Googling is a respectable way to find information online and “grok” is slang for “get it” (as in, “Do you grok?”), “dongle” has wormed its way into society as one of the funniest tech words around. Other than a hilarious-sounding word, though, what exactly is a dongle? Here’s the definition à la Merriam-Webster:

Dongle (noun): A small device that plugs into a computer and serves as an adapter or as a security measure to enable the use of certain software.

In non-tech-genius speak, that means pretty much anything that plugs into your computer, sticks out and has some sort of practical application, such as converting your regular TV into a smart one or enabling Bluetooth. Heck, even a USB drive could be considered a dongle.

Nobody seems to know the origins of dongledom, but for those of us with the emotional maturity of a sixth-grade boy, it’s hard not to giggle at it — especially when you’re talking about troubleshooting your dongle or keeping your dongle safe.

But listen, surrendering to the humorous sound of the dongle is not all fun and games — it can actually get you into trouble. At least it did in the case of two guys who made an unfortunate dongle-related joke at a PyCon developers conference in 2013, according to The Wire. Let’s just say the dongle humor didn’t go over well with a woman seated in front of them. She tweeted about it, PyCon talked to them, and one of the developers and the woman who wrote the tweet were both fired from their jobs. It’s a sad and cautionary tale.

The moral? Whether you’re discussing the merits of dongling or designing a dongle of your very own, keep the giggles inside — at least at the office.