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In his 1948 essay Intelligent Machinery, Alan Turing defines a Logical Computing Machine as having:

...an infinite memory capacity obtained in the form of an infinite tape marked out into squares on each of which a symbol could be printed. At any moment there is one symbol in the machine; it is called the scanned symbol. The machine can alter the scanned symbol and its behavior is in part determined by that symbol, but the symbols on the tape elsewhere do not affect the behavior of the machine. However, the tape can be moved back and forth through the machine, this being one of the elementary operations of the machine. Any symbol on the tape may therefore eventually have an innings.

The meaning of the word innings, the very last word in this passage, is not clear to me. Can someone help me nail it down? Is it simply that any symbol may be the “scanned symbol” at some point?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

That’s an interesting application of the word. This question got me curious about how many other times inning has been used outside of its cricket (or baseball) context.

Some online dictionaries (such as Collins) pay little mind to such generic applications of the word; others (such as Wordnik) explicitly mention that use:

n. Sports The division or period of a cricket game during which one team is at bat.

n. An opportunity to act or speak out; a chance for accomplishment. Often used in the plural with singular or plural verb [as Turing did: “an innings”].

The OED, under meaning #4, describes the word being used in both of those ways, with a quote by Dickens leading off a flurry of other examples:

4a. In Cricket, Baseball, and similar games (in Great Britain always in pl. form innings n. whether in sing. or pl. sense): That portion of the game played by either side while ‘in’ or at the bat.

b. (in Great Britain always in pl.) The time during which a person, party, principle, etc. is in possession or in power; a term of, or opportunity for, activity of any kind; a turn.

1836 Dickens Pickwick Papers (1837) xxiii. 238 “It’s my innings now, gov’rnor, and as soon as I catches hold o’ this here Trotter, I’ll have a good ’un.”

Well, I guess I’ve had my innings to answer; we’ll see if anyone else wants to chime in.

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In OED sense 4b, you missed that that sense is preceded by transf. set in italic. – tchrist Jun 23 '12 at 0:03
There seems to be some disagreement over whether inning and innings are the same head word. Oxford's free online dictionary lists them separately (with inning as a baseball term and innings as a cricket term with metaphorical usage outside the sport); the BNC seems to separate them too (although that might not be an independent decision, since it was an OUP project). – Peter Taylor Jun 23 '12 at 12:00

In this case, it’s a cricket reference: innings (the batting turn of a cricket player or team). In other words, any symbol on the tape may therefore eventually have a turn.

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+1 Beat me to it – Andrew Leach Jun 22 '12 at 22:18

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