I reckon its a computer

Is computer a new word?

If there was a word that you would expect to have been coined in our times it would be computer. A computer is defined as an electronic device for storing and processing data. It does so in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program (according to the Oxford Dictionary).

But no! The word is almost 400 years old having come, like many other words, from French and originally from Latin. Could you imagine what the Romans would have done with computers? Spread-sheeting with Roman numerals might have been a bit hard, though.

Brief history of computers

In their early history what we call computers were not called computers. Charles Babbage (1791-1871) an English mechanical engineer, is considered the father of the computer. He invented the first mechanical computer in the early 19th century but he called it a difference engine and his next design an analytical engine.

By the mid 20th century computers were being referred to as machines or analysers. Alan Turing (1912-1954) was a pioneer of theoretical computer science and famous war time code-breaker. He created the concept of the modern, general-purpose computer known as a Turing Machine.

The calculating machines became known as computers around 1945. The first modern computer, ENIAC (electronic numeral integrator and computer) was built in 1946 at the University of Pennsylvania and bore the name.

Derivation of computer

Compute meaning to determine by calculation comes from the French verb, computer, but originally from the Latin computare meaning to count, sum up, reckon together. It is formed from com meaning together and putare to reckon (which originally meant to prune).

About the same time (in the 1640s) computer and was used for a person who calculates, a reckoner, one whose occupation is to make arithmetical calculations.

Calculate is a bit older (in the 1560s) and means to ascertain by computation or estimate by mathematics. It comes from Latin calculare meaning to reckon or to compute. Calculators were not adding machines but mathematicians in the 14th century. Calculate originally derives from calx, Latin for limestone for the pebble (presumably limestone) used as a reckoning counter (pebbles were common as counters in the ancient world as well as balls and broken pottery—see here). Bean counting, on the other hand is a more modern occupation.