[Ads-l] Antedating of "Computer Virus"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 25 03:01:49 UTC 2023

Excellent citation, Fred.
The term "virus" was applied to a computer in 1964. (Fred may have
already seen this during his search). However, "virus" in this 1964
citation simply meant a computer malfunction or a computer bug. The
modern sense of computer "virus" includes the notion of
transmissibility and/or replication.

Date: Nov 2, 1964
Newspaper: The Greensboro Record
Newspaper Location: Greensboro, North Carolina
Article: Computer Quits; Teachers' Pay Checks Delayed
Quote Page A10, Column 3
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
However, Blue Monday turned out to be a better day. The checks were
ready and were being distributed. It was hoped that the computer's
virus had been cured.
[End excerpt]

The OED has an entry for "virus" in the computer domain. This entry is
distinct from the "computer virus" entry. The first citation is the
famous 1972 science fiction story titled "When HARLIE Was One" by
David Gerrold.

[Begin OED excerpt from Gerrold story]
You know what a virus is, don't you?.. The VIRUS program does the same thing.
[End OED excerpt from Gerrold story]

Wikipedia claims that Gerrold's novel was a "fix-up", i.e., a novel
constructed using previous short stories. I checked two previous
stories by Gerrold featuring the HARLIE character: Oracle For a White
Rabbit (Dec 1969, Galaxy) and The God Machine (May 1970, Galaxy).
Neither contained "virus". I do not know whether there were other
HARLIE stories.

Interestingly, some journalists read Gerrold's story (or heard about it).
The following article from June 20, 1973 was clearly inspired by
Gerrold’s story. The article uses "virus" with the computer sense, but
it does not use "computer virus".


The following article from September 18, 1973 was also clearly
inspired by Gerrold's story. It uses "virus" and  "computer virus".
This is the article mentioned by Fred. Congratulations to jdmurray199
who clipped it on Feb 17, 2022.



On Sun, Sep 24, 2023 at 6:35 PM Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:
> I should have typed the word "computer," not "compute," before the word "Virus."
> Fred Shapiro
> ________________________________
> From: Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu>
> Sent: Sunday, September 24, 2023 6:32 PM
> Subject: Antedating of "Computer Virus"
> computer virus (OED 1984)
> 1973 _Shreveport Journal_ 18 Sept/ 2A/2 (Newspapers.com)  He's expecting to make a bundle out of the situation by selling a vaccine which will cure the compute Virus and keep the machines from getting it again.
> Fred Shapiro
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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