Naming things is hard

. 1 min read

Naming things is the hardest thing in Computer Science. It’s so hard, we even screwed up the name for “computer”!

If you’re a native English speaker like me, you probably don’t stop and think about English words too often. I say what I think, and the words happen to tumble out in the correct order.

Let’s talk about another language then. In German, a computer ist ein Computer. So the English and the Germans think this MacBook I’m typing on is a computation device. But is my MacBook just a big, fancy abacus?

I prefer the Mandarin name 电脑, which means “electric brain”. Modern computers are more like brains than calculators. Computers can play Go, recognise faces, and understand natural language. It’s a shame that in English, we named this incredible machine for the most basic thing it can do - mathematical calculation. The Chinese instead looked at what computers will soon become - amazing machines that are capable of human level intelligence.

It’s always entertaining to see how different languages organise the world. English is only one solution to making sense of the world, and it isn’t always the best one. Sadly, we’re stuck with “computer”.

Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash.