[Ads-l] Antedating of the Engineering Term "Bug"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sun Jan 16 22:35:34 EST 2022

Of all the tens of thousands of words whose origins I have investigated, one of the ones I am proudest of is my work on the engineering term "bug."  I believe my writings on this subject were responsible for publicizing the fact that the story about Grace Murray Hopper coining the computer term "bug" after a moth was found inside one of the earliest computers was false.  The computer use of "bug" is clearly merely a specialized application of a general engineering term going back to the days of Edison, who used it frequently.

The earliest known citation for the engineering "bug" has been dated August 15, 1875.  This was discovered, not by me, but by Peggy Kidwell of the Smithsonian Institution, who published a brilliant article about this subject.  Now I have found a bit earlier citation:

bug [engineering sense] (OED 1875 Aug.)
1875 The Operator 15 May 10 (Internet Archive)  The Boston Quadruplex with Gerritt Smith's new double decked relays has not a solitary "bug" upon it.

Fred Shapiro

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

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