Part 5
Search Interval: The OED Guidelines

Copyright ©2001 by Paul Niquette, all rights reserved.

uidelines for authenticating my claim were given to me by the Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary on July 6, 2000, calling for three searches: Published Documentation, Unpublished Documentation, and Established Stories.  As indicated in the diagram, to authenticate my claim, all three searches would be confined to the Search Interval, between October, 1953 and June, 1960.

The most likely confirmations would be derived from my work at UCLA's Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering and from technical projects at Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge Products (later TRW, Inc.).  Then too, prospective sources included my students in analog and digital computers at Los Angeles Technical College.

1. Published Documentation

With limited time to devote to the softword project, I drew extensively upon the resources of the Internet.  On-line historical databases, of course, favor events that occurred long after the 1950s.  I contacted likely sources, including the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and The Software History Center, with disappointing results.

"Three moves is the same as a fire," the saying goes.  My personal archives have been eroded by seventeen residence relocations plus as many career changes.  A mere fifteen book-boxes remain.  I arranged to have them shipped from storage in Macomb, Illinois to my home in Concord, California.  I spread out their contents on my work-bench.  One item, the draft of a long-forgotten paper that I submitted to the ACM caught my attention.  I dashed into the house and gazed at my computer screen...

Sure enough, OED's earliest citation was a quote taken from Communications, Association of Computing Machinery (ACM).  I took that as an omen.  In about 1959, I had submitted a "transaction" for one of ACM's journals. My short paper described an elegant random number generator for use by a feature-challenged computer with a drum memory (that's right, a drum -- please do not laugh).  In particular, it was the RW-300, and I was using that meager machine to perform a Monte Carlo analysis of a proposed landing system for Chicago's Midway (not O'Hare -- see "Lottery Aloft").  I clicked up the ACM website, where I read...

Founded in 1947, ACM is a major force in advancing the skills of information technology professionals and students worldwide. Today, our 75,000 members and the public turn to ACM for the industry's leading Portal to Computing Literature, authoritative publications and pioneering conferences, providing leadership for the 21st century.
...and requested a search of their archives for 1959.  Bernard Rous, Deputy Director of Publications ransacked the records but was unable to find my paper.  I got to thinking:  Whereas the research work was completed in mid-1959, the paper would have been submitted no earlier than 1960, thereby coinciding with the citation already published in OED.  I do remember being a mighty proud 26-year-old upon seeing my name in print alongside an algorithm for a computer model that profoundly influenced a safety-critical decision in aviation history; however, it is doubtful indeed that I actually used the word 'software' in that paper.  Instead, I would have referred to it by the formal and most common terminology, "subroutine."

Among various newspaper clippings in my files dating back to the early fifties were reports of local service-club speeches, an article I wrote about UCLA's pioneering automobile crash-injury research published in California Engineer, a piece in Westways magazine reporting on the first radar speed-meter, and several formal papers. The papers were all related to traffic engineering and explicitly authored by the principal researchers for whom I worked.  None mentioned computers, let alone 'software'.

The two most relevant papers among my keepsakes were published long after 1953.  My heart skipped a beat when I found them.  The years coincided with those in the OED entry for the word 'software'.  A coincidence -- or another omen?

  • "Design Considerations for Computer Driven Relay Controlled Displays," R. P. Niquette, American Institute of Electrical Engineers, June 20, 1960, 10 pp.
  • "Terminal Area Sequence Control,"  R. P. Niquette, et al., a 230-page research report for the Federal Aviation Agency, February, 1961.
Alas, neither paper included the word 'software' -- not even once.  It was like antibodies had formed around the word.

Worth mentioning, I think, is the fact that I did deliver earlier versions of both papers at various conferences, including one at University of Pennsylvania and another at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from within the Search Interval. From the podium and on technical panels, I distinctly remember how I allowed myself to be less formal, even jocular, yet printed in a formal paper 'software' would have looked -- well, too unserious.

So much for authenticating my claim by Published Documentation.  Just the same, any surviving attendees who recall those sessions during which they might have heard the word 'software' for the first time have been invited to comment here.  After six years, none have done so.

2. Unpublished Documentation

Back to my workbench and those fifteen boxes.

In 1953, I was a junior at UCLA.  Accordingly, the Unpublished Documentation in my archives from that period are nothing but notes and term papers on engineering subjects.  There were no courses in computers at UCLA until after I graduated in 1955.

My first necktie job put me on secret projects for Hughes Aircraft, and, apart from private maunderings and satirical cartoons, there are few unpublished documents in my unshredded personal files.  One cartoon I was hoping in vain to find would have characterized the time for readers of today.

As for lecture notes for my computer class at Los Angeles Tech -- well, there never were any.  That's right, to this day, I have always taken pride in speaking from memory, extemporizing problems, stimulating discovery.

Now, it has been a lifelong habit to mark ideas as they occur to me with a stylized lightbulb in the margin of my notebooks.  A few loose-leaf entries from the fifties include sketches so marked, which in their time were doubtless viewed as brilliant.  Over the years and in the face of technological advances, however, the embarrassing obsolescence of those early efforts all but assured that they would be discarded on residential moving days.

A few escaped, and naturally, I was hoping to find among the surviving pages a lightbulb alongside the word 'software'.   That would do it for OED, I told myself -- Unpublished Documentation from the fifties.  But no.  Whereas in my undiscarded papers, the word 'software' appears routinely in many places, usually abreviated 'S/W', the earliest occupies a line on a page dated 11/17/63 when I was at Scientific Data Systems -- beyond the Search Interval.  No lightbulb for that one.

The third and last search was about to commence...

3. Established Stories

There ought to be many of these.  All I need to do is find a few of the story tellers.  That's what I thought, anyway.  Three groups of prospective narrators are most appropriate for this last search.

3a. Family Members 1953 onwards
3b. Colleagues at UCLA 1953-1955
3c. Students at Los Angeles Tech 1956-1959
3a. Family Members...
...may be the least credible informants under the harsh scrutiny of OED's editorial staff; however, the omission of their retrospective comments might be suspicious, too.

As a working full-time student with a long commute to the UCLA campus, I devoted precious few waking hours to my family.  A half-century later, there are no letters-in-the-attic to discover, either -- only a handful of greeting cards among my keepsakes, hardly the place to find Established Stories about the word 'software'.

My mother died in 1975.  In 1953, she was a single mother of three juveniles with little time to be curious about her eldest son's academic exploits.  My father died in 2002 and would have been a likely source for Established Stories about me and the word 'software'; however, he was estranged from the family for ten years beginning in 1953.

During a telephone conversation in 2001, my dad allowed that the word 'software' probably did first reach his ears from me during a television interview I gave in New York (in 1958).  He offered to sign an affidavit to that effect.  I procrastinated, thinking -- wrongly -- that there would be plenty of time for that if the need arose.
In an effort to reprise Established Stories about the word 'software', I wrote a delicately worded e-mail message to my sister and two brothers:
July 13, 2000

Dear (in alphabetical order) Alan, David, and Patricia,

Here is a long shot.   I am working on personal project with which each
of you may be able to help (large values of "may" and small values of

Hoping that you will not be inconvenienced by my query, permit me to attach excerpts from correspondence with John Simpson, who is Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Looking forward to receiving your comments, I am merely, your brother

My sister, Patricia, now matriarch of our family, sent me a reply that brought tears to my eyes but no Established Stories to my search...

July 24, 2000 

Dear Paul,

In 1953, I was 11. 

I have few recollections of my life in the fifties except for flashes such as 1) learning how to roller skate down hill and negotiating a perfect circle where the sidewalk of Perkins Lane turned to Beland Boulevard; 2) learning to ride a bicycle; 3) listening to "Weemaway" on the car radio on the way to the beach; 4) learning where middle C was on the piano keyboard and where it was on the music;  5) learning to play four-hand chopsticks on the piano; 6) watching college guys skindiving to retrieve abalone; 7) enrolling in private school. 

You were the sponsor of all this and much more. I wish I could be of some help on this laudible cause.

Sis sib

My two brothers, David and Alan, were respectively 9 and 10 years old in 1953.  Today, both are distinguished members of the clergy, David in Colorado and Alan in Oregon.  I was eager to have their replies, hoping they would include helpful contemporaneous recollections.  The closest to Established Stories, albeit from members of my family, may well be inferred from the following letters from my brothers:

July 19, 2000

Dear Paul,

In my recollection, you were the first one I heard use the word “software.” You took the time to explain to me the concept of standardized sub-routines, or utilities, as you gave me an after-hours tour of your workplace in the summer of 1957.

I have recounted the details to many of my engineer and technical writing friends at Hewlett-Packard as a matter of interesting conversation to prove I had some sense of the earliest days of the computer revolution. (I’m admitting to grasping after a little reflected glory from an older brother --  pretty humble, huh?)

Here are some details of the context of the event. I remember the day you took Alan and me to the Ramo Wooldridge Building south of LAX. It was after hours, but with your security card we gained entrance and took a tour of the facilities. You led us into the climate controlled room which contained the RW-300 computer – roughly the size of a large chest-type freezer. Today, I understand that many $30 hand held calculators at Walmart can perform the same computations more quickly. How times and technology has have changed!

While you were explaining the technology of this mammoth calculator, you showed me the perforated paper tape that I now understand to be a primitive programming means. You distinguished this input tape from the machine itself, referring to the latter as “hardware,” and the former as “software.” This was the first time I had heard this term and the concept behind it. 

You explained that the perforated tape was designed to give instructions to the computer regarding certain basic utilities or sub-routines that a designing engineer. (I’m not sure if they called them programmers back them.) This designer could invent instructions to set up the computer to function as he desired. The advantage of the paper software, you demonstrated, was its transportability to similar “hardware” units, so that the value of an expensive program could be shared and expanded without the need for replicating the design from scratch for each computer. 

I have also enjoyed recalling to my technical friends that your office was next to that of Simon Ramo. Ramo and Dean Wooldridge later merged somehow with Thompson Products, you told us. While Thompson Ramo Wooldridge does not ring a bell with many, its acronym does – TRW! 

Paul, you certainly shared from the earliest days the adventure in an industry which has so revolutionized the world. 

Warm regards,


September 14, 2000

Dear Paul,

To the best of my recollection, it was back in the early 1950's, when our big brother Paul would take us to the beach and to see various sights, like the "Pigeon Hole Garage"  in downtown LA.   I remember one time when you used the word "Software."  We thought you were making a joke.  (You were always able to make us laugh, even during some hard times.)   Even at a very young age, we were familiar with the idea of a "hardware" store, since we were always working on one project or another.  You made a noble attempt to explain the difference between "hardware" and "software."   But it was not until many years had passed that I came to understand and appreciate the significance of that word.

With the proliferation of affordable PC's in the 1980's and 90's, I finally got tuned into the difference between the computer hardware I purchased, and the software -- the intangible operating systems -- that made various programs work.  What you tried to explain to us in the 50's finally made sense.  Since the early 1980's, I have often told friends and acquaintances, "My brother Paul coined the word 'software'."

Back in the mid-1990's, when my own Kyndi Joy was a tiny little tyke (a first-grader), as I was driving her to school one morning, she asked ponderously, "Daddy, what is 'silverware'?"  I told her that silverware included things like the knives, forks and spoons we use at the dinner table.  Then I queried, "Why do you ask?"  Kyndi replied, "I keep hearing you tell people that your brother, Paul, invented silverware."  I explained to her that the word was "software," and she now understands that her Uncle Paul is not the sole inventor of software, but the man who coined the word. 

Paul, I will always be proud that my older brother has contributed a word to the English language that is now spoken around the globe.

Yo Bro, 

The phrase "summer of 1957" above is possibly sufficient for the editors of OED to establish my claim at least for usage prior to 1958 -- a date that has actually become more significant than the 1953 date for the coinage, as will be seen.  Adding gravitas to that supposition are a few encouraging comments I have received from long-time friends and working associates, especially this one from Al Bongarzone:

August 21, 2000


I started as a programmer working for the RAND Corp at MIT's Lincoln Lab in 1956. The term "software" was in general use at the time. I didn't realize that among your many other accomplishments you had also coined that term, but I am not surprised, as your facility with words is widely known and admired. 

Best regards in this latest challenge.

3b. Colleagues at UCLA...
...fellow students and university staff -- they were all right there in 1953, present and in their adulthood for the historic moment of coinage and first usages of the word 'software'.

Over the years, I have maintained contact with only one fellow engineering student, Don Lauria.  He reminded me that he had no interest in "giant brains" during the early fifties.   Decades later, though, Don became a computer entrepreneur, selling and applying software-intensive data processing systems for small businesses.  With regret, Don admits to having no recollection today of when or where he first encountered the word 'software'.

With some effort, I tracked down another fellow student, Angelo DeGrace.  In view of my neglect for our friendship, I was not comfortable asking him up front to ransack his recollections about the word 'software'. Later on, when I was leaving on vacation, I called him for a chat.  He was just entering his third session of chemotherapy. When I returned, Angelo DeGrace was gone.

Ten persons on the staff at UCLA in 1953 would be the most likely narrators of Established Stories...

Paul Barber
Al Berg 
Lewellyn M. K. Boelter 
Bob Brenner 
Dan Gerlough 
Heinz Haber 
Slade Hulbert 
Dave McClinton 
Derwyn Severy
DeForest Troutman
  • Eight have died, including my mentor Dan Gerlough and my chess partner Heinz Haber. Both would be centenarians by now.  The discovery of each obituary struck me with no small amount of sadness, as I have been forced to cope abruptly with the collective loss of the finest, most generous persons I have ever known.
  • Dave McClinton, who was never a close friend, is retired in Northern California.  He responded to my e-mail queries with grumpy non-sequiturs, possibly embarrassed to be asked to test his memory.
  • Slade Hulbert, one of the founders of Human Factors Engineering, is now retired in nearby Danville, California and a confirmed Luddite.  I eagerly arranged a reunion.  Over wine and cheese, our conversation was dominated by his geriatric ailments.  I commenced to reminisce with Slade about the software I wrote for his projects, but he interrupted me.  "I once tried to program the SWAC myself, Paul.  I decided I hate computers."  I left a self-addressed stamped envelope for Slade's convenience.  That was more than five years ago.
3c. Students at Los Angeles Tech...
...would have heard their bespectacled instructor use the word 'software' more than once, making them all likely sources for Established Stories, one might expect.  There were more than a hundred of them, and I may have kept those rosters for a dozen residential moves.

Foremost, there were four students in one class who were all from TRWP (now TRW).  They pulled their neckties loose and sat together in the front row taking copious notes...

  1. It was easy for me to tell that Ray Jacobsen was the boss of that group ("I'll go bring the car around, Mr. Jacobsen," said one after class each evening).  Ray was a division vice president at TRWP and hired me during that semester ("assuring myself of a passing grade," he would joke for years thereafter).  He went on later to found Anderson-Jacobsen, the leading modem manufacturer for its time.  Ray would be well into his eighties by now, which may explain why I have not been able to locate him.
  2. The next student in the hierarchy was Lou Perillo, sales manager at TRWP.  Enjoying a distinguished career, he continued as a colleague and friend through most of my years at Xerox.  Lou died back in the seventies.
  3. Then there is Rigdon Currie, who became a close friend.  He has continued to work with me on various business deals off and on for four decades.  A birdwatcher of some renown, Rig is now retired in Point Reyes and pleads senility whenever I mention the word 'software'.
  4. Finally, there is the exceptionally talented storyteller, Ray Stanish -- my best hope for a first-hand collection of Established Stories!  Please note the exclamation point.  After all, Ray made a lucrative career out of comic impressions of Einstein and popularizing computers in hilarious speeches all over the country, retiring at the age of 32.
ll right, damn it, so Published Documentation does not appear in journals, and Unpublished Documentation has not survived in my archives; likewise, Established Stories in the 1953 time-frame, whether from family or UCLA associates, are not forthcoming from living memories.  I am not giving up.

An "adventure" that started out as a casual investigation ostensibly on behalf of my progeny had been fraught with set-backs and disappointments and now was becoming an ego-driven obsession. Forget October, 1953.  Anything before 1960 -- OED's earliest citation -- will do.  I took a deep breath and decided to launch an all out search-and-query mission targeting my other colleagues at TRW.  I ransacked my memory and files and came up with thirty names from 1957...

Bill Aiken
Elliot Beiderman
Emil Borgers
Elaine Brooks
John Dauwalder
Jim Farzan
Fred Fielding
Peter Friedlander
George Heilborn
Herb Henderson
Dick Hexter
Fred Holland
Curt Johnson
Harry Keat
Wayne King
Paul Likins
Joe Manildi
Dan McGurk
Bert Newman
Harold Ottosen
Bill Paine
Steve Pardee
Monty Phister
Elliot Rech
Ed Robin
Stu Schy
Francis Semere
Jack Smeltzer
Tom Stout
David Tanz
Jim Trapp
Lew Ward
Bob Wilmer

Tracking them down one by one in a crescendo of correspondence and follow-ups, I encountered more obituaries and more memory lapses.  Still, there was no turning back from my efforts to harvest pre-1960 Established Stories. I continued writing and calling and asking.

Suddenly the endeavor lost its meaning!

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