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Sylwia Vargas
Sylwia Vargas

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Trivia #2: Where did the word "debugging" come from?

Welcome to my little CS trivia series. Every week I post a new trivia piece because it seems that my mind is made of pieces of knowledge that don't make one knowledgeable but certainly serve as a good conversation starter (or, killer).

Today's question is...


Where does the word "debugging" come from?

When I was doing Harvard's CS50 course, professor David Malan mentioned that the origins of debugging trace back to 1947 and Admiral Grace Hopper who found a moth that caused the Mark II computer to break. Admiral Hopper then pasted the moth into her journal with the words "First actual bug being found":
Grace Hopper journal
By Courtesy of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, VA., 1988

Now, although that is a very lovely story, the term had actually already been present in tech. For instance, in 1944 J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the WWII atomic bomb program, used the word in his letter to Ernest Lawrence.
Oppenheimer's letter
By Courtesy of UC Berkeley, 1944

While we don't know how the word came in use into tech, Clive Thompson mentions in his book, "Coders", that it was already in 1878 that Thomas Edison used the word in reference to his telegraph malfunction. In a letter to his friend, he wrote:

“You were partly correct, I did find a ‘bug’ in my apparatus, but it was not in the telephone proper."

Edison Letter
By courtesy of Swann Galleries

Discussion (3)

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yechielk profile image
Yechiel Kalmenson

Fascinating history!

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Sylwia Vargas Author

Oh, thank you! I really love to know the “but why” and “but how” of whatever I’m learning. It helps me stay excited!

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Yechiel Kalmenson • Edited on

And thanks for sharing them. It helps us stay excited 🤗