April 12, 2022

What’s the origin of the term ‘bug’?

Mathilde Lelong
Blog > Test Culture
What’s the origin of the term ‘bug’?

This article follows the #TestCulture on the origin of the term ‘bug’. Culture points on the testing world, sharing of anecdotes and discussion around testing and automation, #TestCulture is a weekly appointment on Agilitest’ Twitter account, which takes place every Thursday at 4pm GMT.

To browse the thread, click on the tweet below:

Grace Murray Hopper, a woman invested in technological evolution, but not only 

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper is born on December 9, 1906, in New York. She was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral, and a pioneer in computer programming who invented one of the first linkers. Early in her life, Grace Murray Hopper showed a big interest in engineering. As a child, she would often take apart household tools and put them back together. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, Grace decided to join the war effort. She was initially rejected, but she persisted and received a waiver to join the U.S. Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve). Defense Distinguished Service Medal, U.S. Naval Reserve Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom... She has won many awards during her career (9 in total).

A new language created by Grace and her team

In 1959, Grace served as a technical consultant to the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL), and many of her former employees served on the short-term committee that defined the new language COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language).

COBOL is an English computer programming language designed for business. It is mostly used in commercial, financial and administrative systems of companies and governments. It is also used in mainframe applications. 

Now, due to its declining popularity, COBOL is being rewritten in modern languages or replaced by software packages. Most COBOL programs are now only used to maintain existing applications. However, as late as 2006, many large financial institutions were developing new systems in COBOL.

A new term in tech, but not a new incident

In September 1947, Grace Murray Hopper recorded ‘the first computer bug’ in the logbook of Harvard's Mark II computer. The problem was attributed to a moth caught between relay contacts in the computer, which Hopper duly recorded in the Mark II logbook with the explanation, "First actual case of bug found." The bug was actually found by others, but Hopper chose the name in the logbook.

Grace is the person who probably made the incident famous. But, contrary to what many have acquired as the appearance of the term, Hopper did not actually invent the notion of "bug". The term has been used since the 19th century with Thomas Edison. Grace just formalized it by using it as well. And this was the first bug identified in a computer (Thomas Edison used the phrase to describe a problem with his telephone designs).

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Mathilde Lelong

About the author

Mathilde Lelong

Mathilde is Content & Community Manager at Agilitest and has 4+ years experience in marketing and communication.

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