[TUHS] Happy birthday, Grace Hopper!

John Cowan cowan at mercury.ccil.org
Wed Dec 9 05:06:32 AEST 2015

Dave Horsfall scripsit:

> Rear Admiral Grace ("Amazing") Hopper PhD was given unto us in 1906.  She 
> was famous for coining the term "debugging", whereby a moth was removed 
> from a relay contact in a *real* computer[*].

Well, no.  The moth incident happened in 1947, and the OED lists the word
"debugging" as first appearing in print in 1945 in a British journal.
Hopper may or may not have known that: certainly she was consciously
punning on the existing word "bug", which went right back to Edison's
laboratory and first appeared in print (per the OED) in 1889.

> However, she must be condemned for giving us COBOL; yes, I know that vile 
> language, 

I know it too, and there is nothing blameworthy about it.  We wouldn't get
far nowadays without records, and they first appeared in Cobol (or rather
its direct ancestor Flow-Matic) in 1959, more than a decade before any
other programming language had them.  Longer, if you accept that PL/I
would not have taken the shape it did if Cobol had not existed.  Yes,
Cobol is clunky and archaic; lots of people think Lisp is archaic too.
But it met a need at a particular time, and very successfully so.

The pseudo-readability was meant, at least by Hopper herself, to help
customers rather than managers understand the code.

John Cowan          http://www.ccil.org/~cowan        cowan at ccil.org
Big as a house, much bigger than a house, it looked to [Sam], a grey-clad
moving hill.  Fear and wonder, maybe, enlarged him in the hobbit's eyes,
but the Mumak of Harad was indeed a beast of vast bulk, and the like of him
does not walk now in Middle-earth; his kin that live still in latter days are
but memories of his girth and his majesty.  --"Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit"

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