You Read It First in Science

History-of-science buffs may never have to leave their computers now that back issues of Science have been added to an electronic archive that (soft)warehouses scholarly journals. One researcher has used the new resource to track down what may be the earliest print appearances of dozens of now-common words and phrases.

Earlier this year, librarian and word historian Fred Shapiro at Yale Law School traced the origin of the word "software" to a 1958 article in the journal American Mathematical Monthly (Science, 19 May, p. 1169). He searched the JSTOR archive, electronic home to back issues from scores of journals in the arts and sciences, to find the earliest use of the term.

Now Shapiro has tracked down what may be the earliest print appearance of "personal computer." It appears the term was created at Hewlett-Packard, which debuted it in an ad for the HP 9100A, the first scientific desktop computer, in the 4 October 1968 issue of Science. The HP ad, which ran in other scientific journals as well, beats the earliest citation given in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)--an article in Byte magazine--by nearly 8 years, he reports in the October-December issue of the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing.

Dozens of other words also appear in Science well before their earliest citations in the OED, Shapiro says. He has turned up examples including radioactivity (1899), IQ (1917), and heart attack (1918). Others on the list:

  • genotype, 1897
  • aquifer, 1901
  • cryogenics, 1902
  • mononucleosis, 1907
  • chemotherapy, 1909
  • immunology, 1909
  • chain reaction, 1910
  • geneticist, 1912
  • malfunction, 1912
  • predator, 1916
  • atomic age, 1921
  • endangered species, 1923
  • astronautics, 1928
  • allergist, 1928
  • econometric, 1931
  • positron, 1933
  • graviton, 1935
  • molecular biology, 1941
  • H-bomb, 1950
  • population explosion, 1952
  • test ban, 1956
  • amniocentesis, 1957
  • nanosecond, 1958
  • computerize, 1959
  • megabyte, 1965
  • plate tectonics, 1969
  • microchip, 1969
  • Agent Orange, 1969
  • global warming, 1971

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