The Legend of the Mark IV Moth Is a Myth

Back in the '80s, I was thrilled to read about the Mark IV computer operators finding a moth smashed in the relays. This kind of mythology made the otherwise dry history more interesting and added a level of inside knowledge. But in researching a college paper on computer history, I found that this anecdote was baseless. Nonetheless, college students were still being taught this false history in the '90s despite a column in Entrepreneur that verified that none of the original Mark IV operators remembered such an incident (although they did find a moth once and put it in their log book as a joke).

This article ["Share Poll: Sarbanes-Oxley Seen as Biggest IT Time Waster," QuickLink a7300] ended with Share President Robert Rosen claiming that Grace Hopper had coined the term bug after finding an actual moth in a computer.

The term bug has been used for hundreds of years to refer to a problem (especially one that's difficult to diagnose) in machinery. Many of the engineers working on the first mainframes were recruited from other lines of work, so much of the IT terminology we have today is an amalgamation of terms that stuck when they were used in the computer context, including the word bug.

I hope there will be another article in Computerworld dealing with these quaint, but nonfactual, anecdotes. Whole generations of computer professionals are being raised on them.

Fred E. Brandli Jr.

Network administrator/developer, Lowell, Ark.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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