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The Story of the Bug

November 9th, 2022 | by
Code lines „Failed to load resource“

Source: unsplash.com

The download does not work? Probably a bug.

The lights of the WLAN router flash wildly in all possible colors? Could be a bug.

The software only throws error messages? A bug, for sure.

The term “bug” has long since crept into everyday life. Most people know it from working with electronic devices.

 

What Actually Is a Bug?

The dictionary defines the term “bug” as “a fault in a machine, especially in a computer system or program”. That pretty much sums it up. The extent of the bug can vary, from undesirable behavior to complete malfunction of an application or device, there are no limits.

Actually, the English word means “bug” or also “annoying insect”, but is now also used for “error” or “quirk”. But what is behind it?

 

Origin of the Bug

Is it perhaps a translation error? Did someone write unclearly or mistype? Did a wrong word even catch on?

Not quite, let’s rewind time.

The term was used by engineers as early as the 1880s. This has nothing to do with computers yet. To briefly put this in temporal context:

  • The street scene is dominated by horse-drawn carriages.
  • Inventions during this time included the light bulb, the automobile and the zipper.
  • After a 300-year interruption in construction, the Cologne Cathedral was just completed; the Eiffel Tower would not be erected until this decade.

The concept was witnessed in a letter written by none other than Thomas Edison. There he reported in a subordinate clause that something had stopped working and a “bug” had appeared. He describes to the recipient of the letter that small errors and difficulties are so called. [0]

Other sources also report that the word became established because it was short and could be used as a description for all sorts of errors. Moreover, the word probably sounded more innocuous than “mistake” – especially when talking to business partners or customers. [1] So not a case of regular bug invasions.

 

Maybe Not Real Bugs After All

Disappointed? Cheer up! Nevertheless, there was a “real” bug once.

On September 9, 1947, the world’s first computer bug was documented. At Harvard University, a calculating machine kept delivering errors. When the hardware was opened, the researchers were in for a surprise: A moth was trapped in the computer and had disturbed the electronics. [2]

 

Picture of the logbook entry with probably the first computer bug

Here it is: Probably the first documented computer bug from 1947.
Source: National Geographic

In the 20th century, the term then became established in other disciplines, as well as in the context of software. Exactly how and when this happened is not conclusively understood. However, the first “bug” from 1947 can still be admired today in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C..

 

Help With Your Bugs

If you get stuck using any of the IT Center’s services, feel free to contact our IT-ServiceDesk.

 

Responsible for the content of this article is Linda Jörres.

 

Sources:

[0] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programmfehler

[1] https://www.focus.de/wissen/mensch/woher-kommt-eigentlich-die-bezeichnung-bug-fuer-einen-computerfehler_id_11623275.html

[2] https://www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/sep9/worlds-first-computer-bug/

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