I Hate It When My Myths Are Shattered

Ken AshfordHistory, Science & TechnologyLeave a Comment

H96566k I always liked the story about the etymology of the term "computer bug" (and similar terms, like "debugging".  You may know the tale:

Moth found trapped between points at Relay # 70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, 9 September 1945. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found". They put out the word that they had "debugged" the machine, thus introducing the term "debugging a computer program".

A photo of the actual moth — the supposed first computer "bug" — is on the right (click for a larger display).

Cute, huh?

Sadly, this is one of those times where truth is more boring than fiction.  From Byte.com (via Cynical-C), we learn that "the OED records such a meaning of bug (4b; "a defect or fault in a machine, plan, or the like") as early as 1889."  And in 1878, Thomas Edison wrote:

"It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step is an intuition–and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. This thing gives out and then that–"Bugs"–as such little faults and difficulties are called–show themselves and mo nths of anxious watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success–or failure–is certainly reached"

Tch, Edison.  He gets credit for everything.