Etymology of glitch

I found a reference to the origins of the word glitch in The American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition (SoftKey electronic edition ver. 3.5):

I can’t find any other references to confirm or deny this statement. Any takers?

Hey, aren’t you supposed to be at work?

Actually, you should be asking about entomology; glitches are small, metal insects which live inside computers. Their young gain nourishment from the magnetic fields, and are completely harmless.

However, when a glitch is nearing adulthood, it must consume a small amount of silicon in order to harden its exoskeleton. To acquire the nutrient, it will take a few bytes out of the computer’s memory. If the computer is running at the time, program errors will surely result.

When a glitch colony becomes too large for its environment to support, a portion of its members will migrate to another system by hitching a ride on shared software. Researchers believe that many large software companies are infested with the creatures; from those central distribution points they have migrated to programmer workstations, and thence to users’ desktops.

As a metal-based form of life, the glitch is immune to all known poisons and pesticides. Extensive study failed to find any physical vulnerabilities, but did reveal one psychological weakness: glitches are easily mesmerized by certain monochrome images. When such an image is transmitted through the video card, the insects will stop all activity in order to observe it. Their fixation is so severe that they even forget to eat; if the image remains in place for enough time, the entire colony will starve to death.

Now you know why a programmer will stare at a screen of text for six hours straight, and say that he’s “debugging”.

Of course I don’t fit in; I’m part of a better puzzle.

Shame on you, Auraseer – even a Christian wouldn’t have stooped that low. “Entomology”, indeed! Maybe, if he’d actually confused the words, that would have been okay . . .

Actually, the only thing I ever recall hearing about the origin of ‘glitch’ (possibly originally ‘glitsch’) is from diamond-cutting, where a glitsch (IIRC) was an imperfection in the gemstone which, if it wasn’t detected and allowed for, could cause disaster when the time came to cut the diamond and, instead of splitting cleanly, it crumbled. OTOH (sorry) I could be a milewide of the mark. Good luck with your research.

If that’s the way you want to be, then fine! Just you wait 'til your system gets a really bad glitch infestation. You better not come crawling to me for debugging help, that’s all I have to say.

Here I try to offer an honest explanation, and people get all huffy…

Of course I don’t fit in; I’m part of a better puzzle.


Thanks, that clears things up for me. This has been bugging me for a while.

Hey, aren’t you supposed to be at work?

You called?

From Merriam Webster:

Main Entry: glitch
Pronunciation: 'glich
Function: noun
Etymology: perhaps from Yiddish glitsh slippery place, from glitshn (zikh) to slide, glide; akin to Old High German glItan to glide – more at GLIDE
Date: 1962
1 a : a usually minor malfunction <a glitch in a spacecraft’s fuel cell>; also : 2BUG 2 b : a minor problem that causes a temporary setback : SNAG
2 : a false or spurious electronic signal

I could not find the word in my Webster’s Third New International (1981) or my American Heritage (1983). I suppose the word was not mainstream enough back then to warrant inclusion. I’d have to say the etymology you posted is probably correct.

(No such word as “glitsch” anywhere I can find, and I never heard that word in connection with diamonds. Such flaws are generally called “inclusions.”)

There are “glitsch-” words in German even today, specifically “glitschig” (slippery) and (dialect) “glitschen” (to slip, slide). They have no meaning like “bug” or “imperfection”, although slipping (and falling) can certainly be associated with mistakes of any kind.

Aura: Is a mature glitch colony a gremlin? I bet they are related SOMEhow… :wink:

Sorry, but I was referring to the malfunction-related definition coined recently as opposed to the older definition derived from the Yiddish glitch. My copy of AHD does reference this older derivation.

I started to question the validity of the etymology because I couldn’t find any web pages that mentioned it. I would think that NASA’s web page would at least mention this relatively important piece of linguistic history. By the way, AltaVista yields no useful results–see how many space-related but not glitch-related pages come up when you search for “John Glenn” and glitch. :slight_smile:

Hey, aren’t you supposed to be at work?

Nickerz, my encounter with ‘glitch’ (or ‘glitsch’) was so long ago, I’m almost surprised that I remembered it, but now that you and IncredibleHolg brought up its derivations from Yiddish & German, I’m actually a bit more sure. The term, I believe, was specifically applied to those inclusions in diamonds which could lead to destroying or seriously impairing the value of the stone resulting from the cutting, if they were not detected correctly beforehand. Perhaps, if some diamond-cutting house in the Netherlands has a website, Needahobby could address the question to them. I note that, in his OP, the derivation of the word ‘glitch’ from Glenn’s quote really doesn’t say why they chose a word of Yiddish origin to use. Possibly one of the scientists involved in the space program was Jewish and had an Old World relative who had used the term?

To be more precise in the first part of my previous post, I should have noted that they applied the term ‘glitsch’ to such an inclusion specifically because, if the cutting tool slipped, disaster resulted.

Nice job unearthing the origin of glitch. (Why does that sound lie the title of a Marvel comic?)

Aura, an old riddle:
Q Do you know the difference between an etymologist and an entomologist?
A The etymologist does.