Bootstrapping

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Bootstrapping or booting refers to a group of metaphors that share a common meaning: a self-sustaining process that proceeds without external help.

The term is often attributed to Rudolf Erich Raspe's story The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, where the main character pulls himself out of a swamp by his hair (specifically, his pigtail), but the Baron does not, in fact, pull himself out by his bootstraps. Instead, the phrase appears to have originated in the early 19th century United States (particularly in the sense "pull oneself over a fence by one's bootstraps"), from a similar tall tale.[1][2]

Contents

Straps on leather boots

Tall boots may have a tab, loop or handle at the top known as a bootstrap, allowing one to use fingers or a tool to provide greater force in pulling the boots on. The saying "to pull yourself up by your bootstraps"[3] was already in use during the 19th century as an example of an impossible task. Bootstrap as a metaphor, meaning to better oneself by one's own unaided efforts, was in use in 1922.[4] This metaphor spawned additional metaphors for a series of self-sustaining processes that proceed without external help.[5]

Applications

Computing

The computer term bootstrap began as a metaphor in the 1950s. In computers, pressing a bootstrap button caused a hardwired program to read a bootstrap program from an input unit and then execute the bootstrap program which read more program instructions and became a self-sustaining process that proceeded without external help from manually entered instructions. As a computing term, bootstrap has been used since at least 1958.[6]

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