[Ads-l] "Human computer" as retronym & Hidden Figures

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Mon Jan 30 18:25:34 EST 2017

Mechanical computers were in widespread use starting in the nineteenth century. By Project Mercury, "computer" could refer to a human, a mechanical device, or an electronic device. So the progression is a bit more complex.

(In fact, when they refurbished the battleships USS Iowa and USS New Jersey in the 1980s, they left the old WWII mechanical firing computers in place. They were just as fast and accurate as the electronic computers of the era.)

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Laurence Horn
Sent: Monday, January 30, 2017 2:32 PM
Subject: Re: [ADS-L] "Human computer" as retronym & Hidden Figures

Or just “computers”, since the other (electronic) kind hadn’t become the default variety yet.  A case of “marking reversal”:

STAGE I:   “computers”  [= human]
STAGE II:  “computers”  [= human] vs. “electronic computers”
STAGE III: “computers” [= electronic] vs. “human computers”
STAGE IV: “computers” [= electronic] 

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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