I tend to think out loud when I program. My long suffering wife calls this ‘arguing with my ghosts’. A while back, my wife was sitting peacefully on the couch watching television while I sat beside her testing a mobile app. Suddenly I yelled, “I found a bug!”

Why is it called a bug

“Where?” screamed my startled wife, her eyes darting everywhere searching for an actual creepy crawly.

It’s been years since then and she’s gotten used to my ghosts but at the time I had to explain to her why a glitch was called a bug.

The answer is quite interesting and rooted in history.

Wikipedia: a software bug is an error, flaw, failure or fault in a computer program or system that causes it to produce an incorrect or unexpected result or to behave in unintended ways.

In September 1945 – the dawn of the Internet and fast communication over long distances without using letters- a Harvard team was working on an electromechanical computer. Suddenly a glitch appeared. They looked long and hard for the error, only to find it was caused by an insect. It had crawled into the machine and been crushed between the moving parts of a relay switch which then jammed.

However, this is not the first time a glitch was referred to as a bug. Oxford dictionaries recount this same incident and then go on to say:

“The incident was written up in the logbook and spread from there throughout the whole of the infant computer industry. However, although the account seems to be genuine, the word is older: the event was recorded as an amusement for posterity precisely because the term ‘bug’ was already in use.

The term in fact originates not with computer pioneers, but with engineers of a much earlier generation. The first example cited in the 20-volume historical Oxford English Dictionary is from the Pall Mall Gazette of 11 March 1889:

‘Mr. Edison, I was informed, had been up the two previous nights discovering ‘a bug’ in his phonograph – an expression for solving a difficulty, and implying that some imaginary insect has secreted itself inside and is causing all the trouble.’

It seems clear from this that the original ‘bug’, though it was indeed an insect, was in fact imaginary.”

And that, my friends is why we now call a computer glitch a bug.