Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


someone who makes calculations

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The noun computer is formed from the verb ‘compute’ plus the suffix ‘-er’. It has been in use since the early 17th century.


If you are surprised by the definition of computer given above, bear with me. Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (or STEM). The occasion, which has been celebrated since 2009, is named after the daughter of the poet Byron and Annabella Milbanke. Ada Lovelace is regarded as one of the pioneers of the ideas behind what we now call computing, but during her lifetime and for a century afterwards a computer was a person, one who was good at making calculations; the current meaning dates from the mid 20th century. The original meaning of computer, sense 2 in the Macmillan Dictionary entry, had a little renaissance with the release in 2016 of Hidden Figures. The film is based on the true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three African-American women who were part of the team of computers working at NASA in the 1960s. Their job was to work out manually the complex equations needed to put John Glenn and his successors into space and, just as importantly, get them home safely.


The Analytical Engine remained a vision, until Lovelace’s notes became one of the critical documents to inspire Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.

“In 1935, the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a precursor to NASA) hired five women to be their first computer pool at the Langley campus.”

Related words

mathematician, pioneer, statistician, STEM

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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