Person's finger pressing the power button on a notebook computer.
Lukas Meierheinrich/
The word "boot" comes from "bootstrapping" or the phrase "pull yourself by your bootstraps." You can think of computers as lifting themselves up by their bootstraps when they self-manage the complicated process of powering on.

The tech world is full of all kinds of weird words, and one strange but omnipresent example is the verb “boot” or “reboot.” Why do we use this term when talking about powering on our phones and PCs, and what does it have to do with rugged footwear?

Computers Pull Themselves Up by Their Bootstraps

The word “boot” is a shortened form of the word “bootstrap,” whose noun form refers to the strap on a pair of boots that you can grab and pull to help you get the piece of footwear onto your trotter. The verb form, “bootstrapping,” refers to the English idiom “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps.” Picture a person lifting themselves into the air by simply reaching down and tugging on their waders—a miraculous sight for sure. The metaphor illustrates the idea of a person achieving a goal that would seem impossible without help from someone else.

So what does this have to do with computers? Before you can use your phone or PC, the device’s numerous pieces of hardware and software, like the CPU and operating system, need to be powered or loaded in the correct order. If overseeing that critical chain of events was up to you, every power cycle would be a difficult and tedious chore.

Instead, all you have to do is press the power button, and a small program called the bootloader springs into action coordinating the process, thereby allowing the device to “get itself off the ground” so to speak. In this way, the computer or smartphone can be thought of as having “pulled itself up by its bootstraps” or, for short, “booted.”

So while you might say “I booted my computer” or “I rebooted my router,” it’s technically the device, not you, which can claim the miraculous feat of booting.

Interested in where all these words came from? Take a look at the origin of the names “computer mouse,” “Windows, and “PC” itself.

RELATED: Why Is a PC Called a PC?

Profile Photo for Jordan Gloor Jordan Gloor
Jordan Gloor is Technical Editor at How-To Geek. He's been writing technology explainers and how-tos since 2020, but he's tinkering with computers and other tech since childhood. He writes on everything from Windows to Linux and from cord-cutting to generating art with AI.
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