We still ask each other “did you reboot” your computer when we are asked how to fix a MS Windows operating system problem. That seems to be the “universal fix” when everything else fails. And, it often does. But, did you know where the word comes from? Once again, from Wikipedia:


Boot is short for bootstrap or bootstrap load which derives from the phrase to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps. The usage calls attention to the requirement that, if most software is loaded onto a computer by other software already running on the computer, some mechanism must exist to load the initial software onto the computer.

Early computers used a variety of ad-hoc methods to get a small program into memory to solve this problem. The invention of read-only memory (ROM) of various types solved this paradox by allowing computers to be shipped with a startup program that could not be erased.


Before zippers made getting into tall boots less of a chore, this type of footwear had leather attachments by which the wearer would pull them on. Some boots still do. The image here for the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is to raise yourself off the ground by pulling on your bootstraps. This is obviously impossible.


Well then, is suggesting to a person that they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps meant to discourage them since it is impossible? No, the message is really meant to imply that achieving your goals will require as much hard work as levitating yourself would take. But, is there still a bit of sarcasm in that?


The more I think about it, it reminds me of the Olympic level wind surfer I met years ago. I have always admired that sport and given I am an avid sailor, I wanted to learn. I told him that I had tried to learn to wind surf several times but had failed miserably at it. He told me the key was that I had to be prepared to fall a 1,000 times. If I was, and kept that perspective, I would learn … and it wouldn’t take nearly that many falls.


I was not and to this day still cannot wind surf. Good life lesson … kind of like the mental model of pulling yourself up by your boot straps.

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