Hurrah for the Lowly BUG

By Maeve Maddox

When I lived in England, my colleagues quickly taught me that I must say “insect” (not “bug”) unless I specifically meant “bed-bug.”

In the U.S., bug applies to every conceivable type of insect.

Bug also does duty as both noun and verb in many contexts–and not only in the U.S.

NOTE: When I pick up quotations from the web, I don’t edit them.

Police bugged a safe house where Rosemary West stayed before she was charged with murder but she said nothing that incriminated herself, Winchester Crown Court was told yesterday. –Will Bennett in The Independent (UK)

I dont think surround sound headphones is a gimmick or only for the hardcore gaming i recenlty brought a pair so i can watch a full hd movvie with surround wuthout bugging the neighbours when a car blows up at 3 in the morning. –Australian Forum user

A bug tracking system is a software application that is designed to help quality assurance and programmers keep track of reported software bugs in their work. It may be regarded as a sort of issue tracking system. –Wikipedia

The most important part of reporting a bug is giving the programmer the ability to duplicate the bug on his machine. If we cannot find a bug, we cannot fix it. –tech advice site

Someone needs to put a bug in Coach G’s ear about this guy……… –comment on sports blog

They say the spell that he gets under
From double-barrelled thunder makes his
Eyes bug out like he’s insane –song lyrics

The word bug as applied to scary insects probably derives from M.E. bugge “something frightening, scarecrow,” a meaning obsolete except in bugbear. The bogey-man [boogy-man in my family] is related.

The word’s application to insects may have been influenced by an Old English word meaning “beetle.”

Bug as a Noun
bug – “defect in a machine” – may have been coined by Thomas Edison.
jitterbug – a swing dance of the 1930s. Also used as a verb.
humbug -” trick, joke, hoax.” Dates from 18th century student slang and no one says it anymore. However, if you’ve read or seen A Christmas Carol by Dickens, you know the word.

Bug as a Verb
The verb to bug, “equip with a concealed recording device” entered the language as long ago as 1919.
debug – “remove defects from a machine or software”
to bug meaning “to annoy” dates from 1949.
to bug meaning “to bulge” dates from 1870s and may derive from a variant pronunciation of the word bulge.
bug off – “go away!” 1950s; derived from British slang bugger off,

Bug as a Suffix
The suffix -bug added to a word can create a noun meaning “a person obsessed with…” Firebug, “a fire-setter” dates from 1841. Shutterbug, “picture-taking enthusiast,” 1940.
litterbug – “irresponsible person who drops trash anywhere” – first recorded 1947, but the verb littering came later, in 1960.

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5 Responses to “Hurrah for the Lowly BUG”

  • Peter

    I can live with calling insects “bugs”….but the “bug” from which the term relating to computers descends was a moth. It always seemed strange to me to call a moth a bug.

  • Al G.

    Regarding computers and bugs, here’s a more detailed explantion. U.S. Navy Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, who died in 1992, was a pioneer in computer technology. At Harvard one August night in 1945, Hopper and her associates were working on the “granddaddy” of modern computers, the Mark I. “Things were going badly; there was something wrong in one of the circuits of the long glass-enclosed computer,” she said. “Finally, someone located the trouble spot and, using ordinary tweezers, removed the problem, a two-inch moth. From then on, when anything went wrong with a computer, we said it had bugs in it.” When the veracity of her story was later questioned, she said, “I referred them to my 1945 log book, now in the collection of Naval Surface Weapons Center, and they found the remains of that moth taped to the page in question.”

  • Jeff Wolski

    Actually, I always thought that a bug in a computer or system came from Admiral Grace copper in the context of one of the earliest vacuum-tube computers. A moth had gotten into the machine and shorted out some electrical terminals. When the moth was removed, she stated the the machine had been “debugged”.

    http://www.jamesshuggins.com/h/tek1/first_computer_bug.htm

    Thanks,
    Jeff

  • t.grillo

    I saw a funny cartoon once that has always stuck with me. When one person is annoying another you might hear, “Don’t bug me, man!” Well, the cartoon was of two bugs. One said to the other, “Don’t man me, bug!”
    I would say it to my kids and they would laugh, however, nobody else has any idea what I mean.

  • spike1

    Also common in briitain…
    Humbug, a black and white striped mint.

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