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From: Greg 'groggy' Lehey <>
To: Dan Halbert <>, Jim Capp <>,
	Noel Chiappa <>
Subject: [TUHS] Re: Does anybody know the etymology of the term "word" as in collection of bits?
Date: Fri, 9 Sep 2022 10:00:16 +1000	[thread overview]
Message-ID: <> (raw)
In-Reply-To: <> <833155.3451.1662665281061.JavaMail.root@zimbraanteil> <>

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On Thursday,  8 September 2022 at 13:28:13 -0400, Dan Halbert wrote:
> I also looked in the Oxford English Dictionary for etymology. It has:
>     *d.* /Computing/. A consecutive string of bits (now typically 16,
>     32, or 64, but formerly fewer) that can be transferred and stored as
>     a unit./machine word/: see /machine word/ n. at machine n. Compounds
>     2 <>.
>     1946 H. H. Goldstine & J. Von Neumann in J. von Neumann /Coll. Wks./
>     (1963) V. 28   In ‘writing’ a word into the memory, it is similarly
>     not only the time effectively consumed in ‘writing’ which matters,
>     but also the time needed to ‘find’ the specified location in the memory.

Since we're searching the OED, there are a couple of others.  The
/machine word/ mentioned above has:

  machine word n. Computing: a word of the length appropriate for a
  	          particular fixed word-length computer.

  1954 Computers & Automation Dec. 16/1 Machine word, a unit of
       information of a standard number of characters, which a machine
       regularly handles in each register.

This makes the meaning clearer, I think, though it doesn't seem to be
a change in meaning.

On Thursday,  8 September 2022 at 17:16:35 -0400, Noel Chiappa wrote:
> Looking a little further, Turing's ACE Report, from 1946, uses the
> term (section 4, pg. 25; "minor cycle, or word"). My copy, the one
> edited by Carpenter and Doran, has a note #1 by them, "Turing seems
> to be the first user of 'word' with this meaning." I have Brian's
> email, I can ask him how they came to that determination, if you'd
> like.

I don't see that this is the same meaning.  Do you?  "Minor cycle"
suggests timing parameters.  But it would be interesting to know
whether this document pre- or postdates Goldstine and von Neumann.

And since we were also talking about bits, it seems that OED has its
own entry,  bit, n.4:

  A unit of information derived from a choice between two equally
  probable alternatives or ‘events’; such a unit stored electronically
  in a computer.

  1948 C. E. Shannon in Bell Syst. Techn. Jrnl. July 380 The choice of
       a logarithmic base corresponds to the choice of a unit for
       measuring information. If the base 2 is used the resulting
       units may be called binary digits, or more briefly bits, a word
       suggested by J. W. Tukey.

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  reply	other threads:[~2022-09-09  0:00 UTC|newest]

Thread overview: 27+ messages / expand[flat|nested]  mbox.gz  Atom feed  top
2022-09-08 16:51 [TUHS] " Jon Steinhart
2022-09-08 16:56 ` [TUHS] " Andrew Hume
2022-09-08 17:28 ` Dan Halbert
2022-09-09  0:00   ` Greg 'groggy' Lehey [this message]
2022-09-09 15:49     ` Paul Winalski
2022-09-09 18:44       ` Bakul Shah
2022-09-08 18:20 Noel Chiappa
2022-09-08 19:28 ` Jim Capp
2022-09-08 21:16 Noel Chiappa
2022-09-08 21:24 ` Dan Halbert
2022-09-09  1:33 Douglas McIlroy
2022-09-09  2:12 ` Larry McVoy
2022-09-13 14:23   ` John Foust via TUHS
2022-09-09  2:45 ` George Michaelson
2022-09-16  5:55 ` Marc Donner
2022-09-09 17:26 Douglas McIlroy
2022-09-09 18:46 Norman Wilson
2022-09-10  1:35 ` Paul Winalski
2022-09-09 19:39 Nelson H. F. Beebe
2022-09-09 20:27 ` Bakul Shah
2022-09-09 21:12   ` Henry Bent
2022-09-09 21:44   ` Dave Horsfall
2022-09-11 13:30 Douglas McIlroy
2022-09-11 15:08 ` John Cowan
2022-09-11 15:30 ` Bakul Shah
2022-09-11 15:45   ` Paul Winalski
2022-09-11 16:20     ` Steve Nickolas

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