[Ads-l] software (and lunatic fringe)

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Fri Feb 19 08:38:01 EST 2021

The two terms that Stephen mentions are very interesting ones.  No one realized that "lunatic fringe" had a prehistory as a description of banged hair until online searching of historical texts retrieved occurrences from the 1870s.

Paul Niquette has energetically insisted that he coined the computer term "software" in 1953, but has no shred of documentation or corroboration of his claim.  He has gained some traction, being mentioned, for example, in Wikipedia and Wiktionary.  The OED has resisted any mention of him in its "software" entry.  I corresponded with Niquette after I discovered the 1958 John Tukey usage of "software," and regard his assertions as ridiculous.  Tukey was a legitimate master word-coiner, also coining the computing term "bit."

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
Sent: Friday, February 19, 2021 6:54 AM
Subject: software (and lunatic fringe)

Words, of course, can take on different and largely unrelated meanings. For example, Teddy Roosevelt in 1913 must have heard the popular collocation "lunatic fringe" even though it meant banged hair since the 1870s, as Fred Shapiro detailed on this list.

Another such case (of a prior use in mind) may well be our current software, whether the computer use was coined in 1952 by John Wilder Tukey or by Paul Niquette in 1953 or on some other date by some other coiner.

Long ago someone distinguished thus:
Two other departments, called the "software" and the "hardware" are very important.
Namely, Charles Dickens.


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