n. An unwanted and unintended property of a program or piece
of hardware, esp. one that causes it to malfunction. Antonym of
. Examples "There's a bug in the editor it writes
things out backwards." "The system crashed because of a hardware
bug." "Fred is a winner, but he has a few bugs" (i.e., Fred is
a good guy, but he has a few personality problems).
Historical note Some have said this term came from telephone
company usage, in which "bugs in a telephone cable" were blamed
for noisy lines, but this appears to be an incorrect folk
etymology. Admiral Grace Hopper (an early computing pioneer better
known for inventing COBOL
) liked to tell a story in which a
technician solved a persistent glitch
in the Harvard Mark II
machine by pulling an actual insect out from between the contacts
of one of its relays, and she subsequently promulgated bug
its hackish sense as a joke about the incident (though, as she was
careful to admit, she was not there when it happened). For many
years the logbook associated with the incident and the actual bug
in question (a moth) sat in a display case at the Naval Surface
Warfare Center. The entire story, with a picture of the logbook
and the moth taped into it, is recorded in the `Annals of the
History of Computing', Vol. 3, No. 3 (July 1981), pp. 285--286.
The text of the log entry (from September 9, 1945), reads "1545
Relay #70 Panel F (moth) in relay. First actual case of bug being
found". This wording seems to establish that the term was already
in use at the time in its current specific sense --- and Hopper
herself reports that the term `bug' was regularly applied to
problems in radar electronics during WWII. Indeed, the use of
`bug' to mean an industrial defect was already established in
Thomas Edison's time, and `bug' in the sense of an disruptive
event goes back to Shakespeare! In the first edition of Samuel
Johnson's dictionary one meaning of `bug' is "A frightful
object; a walking spectre"; this is traced to `bugbear', a Welsh
term for a variety of mythological monster which (to complete the
circle) has recently been reintroduced into the popular lexicon
through fantasy role-playing games.
In any case, in jargon the word almost never refers to insects.
Here is a plausible conversation that never actually happened
"There is a bug in this ant farm!"
"What do you mean? I don't see any ants in it."
"That's the bug."
[There has been a widespread myth that the original bug was moved
to the Smithsonian, and an earlier version of this entry so
asserted. A correspondent who thought to check discovered that the
bug was not there. While investigating this in late 1990, your
editor discovered that the NSWC still had the bug, but had
unsuccessfully tried to get the Smithsonian to accept it --- and
that the present curator of their History of American Technology
Museum didn't know this and agreed that it would make a worthwhile
exhibit. It was moved to the Smithsonian in mid-1991. Thus, the
process of investigating the original-computer-bug bug fixed it in
an entirely unexpected way, by making the myth true! --- ESR]
[1992 update the plot thickens! A usually reliable source reports
having seen The Bug at the Smithsonian in 1978. I am unable to
reconcile the conflicting histories I have been offered, and merely
report this fact here. --- ESR.]