Where Does The Phrase ‘Computer Bug’ Come From?
9/22/1975-New York, NY- Grace Murray Hopper's first love is the U.S. Navy. Her second is the computer, with which she worked long before the average citizen even knew such a machine existed. The peppery 68-year-old pioneer in electronic brains, currently a captain stationed at the Pentagon, first wore a Navy uniform in 1943.
Bettmann via Getty Images

In our hugely tech-literate world, most of us understand — on a basic level at the very least — what a “computer bug” is. The term is used so often in general life and pop culture that it’s actually hard to avoid. Famous examples include Jeff Goldblum’s use of a bug (and a convenient USB port) to take down an enemy invasion in Independence Day, or the cliché, “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”

But where does the term “computer bug” actually come from?

The first use of the concept of a “bug” may date back as far as 1843, when Ada Lovelace discussed issues with “program cards” used in The Babbage Engine — invented by computer pioneer Charles Babbage, who designed the first automatic computing engines decades before the technology existed to actually build them.

“An analyzing process must equally have been performed in order to furnish the Analytical Engine with the necessary operative data, and that herein may also lie a possible source of error. Granted that the actual mechanism is unerring in its processes, the cards may give it wrong orders,” said Lovelace in 1843.

The first use of the term “bug” regarding this concept was provided by Thomas Edison in 1878. Writing to an associate, Edison said, “You were partly correct, I did find a ‘bug’ in my apparatus, but it was not in the telephone proper. It was of the genus ‘callbellum.’ The insect appears to find conditions for its existence in all call apparatus of telephones.”

Later that same year, he wrote to Theodore Puskas, again referencing “bugs.”

“It has been just so in all of my inventions. The first step is intuition and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise—this thing gives out and [it is] then that “Bugs”—as such little faults and difficulties are called—show themselves and months of intense watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success or failure is certainly reached,” wrote Edison.

However, the first recorded real “computer bug” identified was found at 3:45 p.m. on September 9th, 1947, and was a moth found in “number 70 relay, Panel F, of the Harvard Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator.”

After being found, this moth was taped to the machine’s logbook, alongside a note, “Relay #70 Panel 4 (moth) in relay. First actual case of bug being found.”

This caption was added by a pioneering computer scientist and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, Grace Hopper, while working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University.

In 1964, Hopper was awarded the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award, the Society’s highest honor, “In recognition of her significant contributions to the burgeoning computer industry as an engineering manager and originator of automatic programming systems.”

Ian Haworth is an Editor and Writer for The Daily Wire. Follow him on Twitter at @ighaworth.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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