[Ads-l] software (and lunatic fringe)

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Fri Feb 19 09:54:39 EST 2021

I wondered whether "lunatic fringe" in the denigrated hairstyle sense had any transition to the Teddy R. sense of a sparse (like a minority of hairs?) and crazy 1913 "lunatic fringe" sense.
So I found something, then checked: ads-l had been there, done that. The bangs were often called "idiot fringe." Victor Steinbok in 2009:
"[...] A Dictionary of Men's Wear by William Henry Baker, 1908. The entry under "Lunatic fringe" redirects to "Idiot fringe", which is defined as "football hair; bangs". (p. 135)

Usually the hair disdained was of a female. Football here might include males? Teddy, no bangs for him. (And "fragile masculinity," not in OED, was not yet coined.)


From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
Sent: Friday, February 19, 2021 8:38 AM
Subject: Re: software (and lunatic fringe)

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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