Possible Antedating of "Computer"
TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Fri Apr 11 19:04:22 UTC 2003
Fred Shapiro wrote:
> I have found the following 1869 citation, but I'm not sure whether
> "computer" here refers to a person or to a machine. Can anyone
> tell from the context what the likely answer is?
> 1869 Marion Harland _Phemie's Temptation_ 12 Phemie made no
> reply. Her pen was slowly traversing the length of the page, at an
> elevation of a quarter of an inch above the paper, her eyes
> following the course of the nib, as if it were the index of a
> patent computer.
That is an intriguing citation. The word "patent" and the general
image suggests that a form of machine is being referred to. There
were a large number of attempts to create mechanical calculators in
the nineteenth century. It could be referring to a Thomas machine,
which was invented in the 1820s and was so successful that it was
still being sold almost a century later. But all such devices were,
so far as I know, usually called "calculating machines".
Editor, World Wide Words
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