The word bug has many meanings, but it’s the one linked to machines and faults that interests me today. As you’d expect from something as troublesome, the origins are not straightforward, and its translation into French has not been easy either. Lots of history for such a small word!
Some people say that the word bug, used for a fault in software, for example, comes from Grace Murray Hopper finding a moth on the Mark II computer she was working on in 1945, which provoked a fault. They even taped the bug in a logbook with a note saying "First actual case of bug being found".
However, the OED dates its usage back to 1889 with the following quotation: "M. Edison, I was informed, had been up two previous nights discovering "a bug" in his phonograph – an expression for solving a difficulty, and implying that some imaginary insect has secreted itself inside and is causing all the trouble".
In 1896, the Hawkin’s New Catechism of Electricity (Theo. Audel & Co.) (via dictionary.com) had an entry that said: "The term "bug" is used to a limited extent to designate any fault or trouble in the connections or working of electric apparatus".
In French, bug is often borrowed as is (451,000 Google hits), but has also been "Frenchised" under the form of bogue (92,300 Google hits). According to Wikipedia, bogue was recommended by the Délégation générale à la langue française et aux langues de France in 1983. It was originally used in the feminine form, but under Canadian influence, this term changed gender and is now masculine, maybe to differentiate it clearly from UNE bogue (husk).

By | 2016-10-18T15:51:21+00:00 March 11th, 2005|Words|3 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Jonathan Miller March 11, 2005 at 8:34 am

    Thank you for a fascinating discussion of bug. A beautiful word.
    I have encountered a new use of “bug” in an electronic context.
    In television broadcasting, a “bug” is a small continuously broadcast on-screen graphic, typically used to flag channel identity. Many of these bugs have become globally familiar and emblematic – MTV, TV5, etc.
    Is there a term in French for this type of television screen furniture? Une bestiole?

  2. céline March 11, 2005 at 8:42 am

    How interesting, I had no idea those little graphics had a name, and I don’t know if a French equivalent exists. The only thing I can think of is “logo”, but that can apply to any time of visual identity, not just the one on a screen.
    I also found this morning that “bug” can be used for “An imprint attached to a manufacture (e.g., clothing, printing) indicating that work on the article was done by union workers”. Definitely a versatile word!

  3. Becca March 11, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    “Bug” is used in print publishing to refer to small icons as well — including the ones on leaflets and signs showing that they were produced with union labor. It is a pretty common, malleable term.

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