Philosophy of Computer Science
Etymology of 'Compute'
Last Update: 26 February 2010
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You might find the following information interesting.
Whether it's philosophically relevant is another matter!
The word ‘compute’ comes from the Latin word computare,
meaning "arithmetic, accounting, reckoning".
Clearly, its meaning has been extended to include non-numerical "reckoning".
The Latin word computare itself comes from:
- Latin com, meaning "with", and
- Latin putare, meaning "to settle, clear up, reckon".
So, in ancient Rome at least, to "compute" seems to have meant,
more or less, something like:
- "to settle things together"
or maybe "to reckon with (something)".
The word ‘reckon’ originally meant "to count, to calculate, to figure".
‘reckon’ is from an
root rek = to reach? to tell,
to narrate, to say (as in "to recite").
The origins of ‘count’, ‘calculate’, and ‘figure’ are also interesting:
‘count’ also came from computare and originally meant "to enumerate",
"to recite a list"
(and ‘recite’ is probably related to ‘reckon’; see above).
- Note that when you "count", you "recite" a list of
‘calculate’ came from Latin calculus, meaning (not the contents of
MTH 141, but) "pebble"(!),
since counting was done with pebbles originally!
The verb ‘to figure’ means "to use figures to reckon",
where the noun ‘figure’ seems originally to have meant "numerical symbol".
The earliest citation for ‘figure’ in the
Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
is from 1225, where it means "numerical symbol".
A citation from 1250 has the meaning "embodied (human) form".
A citation from 1300 has the more general meaning of "shape".
This conversion of the noun ‘figure’ to a verb is an example of what
the computer scientist Alan Perlis meant when he said,
"In English, every word can be verbed" :-)
Although it is completely irrelevant to this note,
webpage of pithy quotes by Alan Perlis cited above (also
you should also be
sure to read a similar set of quotes from
‘Computation’ seems to have originally meant something very
closely related to our modern notion of "symbol [i.e., shape] manipulation",
which is another way of describing
Copyright © 2007–2010 by
William J. Rapaport