Coining the word “software”

softwaredefn

Computing pioneer Paul Niquette’s memoir begins with the tale of how he came to coin the term software in 1953 — to the ridicule of his colleagues — and how the idea of a computer whose code was separate from its machinery took hold and changed the way we think about computing forever.

When I first said `software’ out loud, people around me said, “Huh?” From the very beginning I found the word too informal to write and often embarrassing to say. Nevertheless, with smirking trepidation I did occasionally feature the word `software’ in speeches and lectures and media interviews throughout the fifties.

It was just a throw-away thing. The word `software’ was hardly my most notable invention, even back then. Nothing to write home about (I was only 19 years old and still living at home). The word `software’ did not belong in a technical paper (besides, an undergraduate is but a ghostwriter for principal researchers). Then too, I had a reputation at UCLA as a practical joker. Colleagues and friends simply shrugged, no doubt regarding each utterance as a tiresome prank or worse, another offbeat neologism, for which I was also becoming noted.

Nobody in 1953 would have guessed that the silly word would take hold, that within a few decades `software’ would enter the general vocabulary for products and for professions — that a worldwide industry would wear it as a solemn name. You can be sure that if my ego and I had harbored any such glorious visions, then…then, what?

 
(reblogged from Boing Boing)

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One thought on “Coining the word “software”

  1. Tom says:

    N.B. there is still uncertainly about who coined the phrase first; it may have been John Tukey.

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