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Etymologically speaking, at least according to Wikipedia, the term Blue Screen of Death:

originated during OS/2 pre-release development activities at Lattice Inc, the makers of an early Windows and OS/2 C compiler. During porting of Lattice's other tools, developers encountered the stop screen when null pointers were dereferenced either in application code or when unexpectedly passed into system API calls. During reviews of progress and feedback to IBM Austin, the developers described the stop screen as the Blue Screen of Death to denote the screen and the finality of the experience.

However, the Wikipedia article cited lacks a source, so I've been wondering about the term itself. Did the term exist as just "blue screen" before "of death" was appended to it? Or did it start out as a "blue screen"? Was there a word that Windows developers called it before the "Blue Screen of Death" rose to popularity?

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    etymology of terms is not allowed on this site? See: english.stackexchange.com/questions/106096/… – yuritsuki Nov 10 '14 at 3:19
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    It's not a programming problem, so programmers.SE would be slightly better than StackOverflow. Still not a very good question there, though. – MSalters Nov 10 '14 at 9:40
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    This question appears to be off-topic. It is not about the English Language – Rory Alsop Nov 10 '14 at 13:14
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    I don't see how this is any more off-topic than any other question about a proverb, phrase or saying. The only difference I can see is that this one is about technology; I don't see any reason why that would put it out-of-scope. – A E Nov 10 '14 at 14:18
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    I'm also tempted to argue that anything listed in the OED (which this is) is English Language by definition. – A E Nov 10 '14 at 14:28
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Official term for blue screen of death

Wikipedia gives the official name in the Windows NT family as a Stop error, and as "bug checks" in development documentation, and that:

BSoDs have been present in all Windows-based operating systems since Windows 3.1.

Wikipedia also claims without citation:

The term "Blue Screen of Death" originated during OS/2 pre-release development activities at Lattice Inc, the makers of an early Windows and OS/2 C compiler. During porting of Lattice's other tools, developers encountered the stop screen when null pointers were dereferenced either in application code or when unexpectedly passed into system API calls. During reviews of progress and feedback to IBM Austin, the developers described the stop screen as the Blue Screen of Death to denote the screen and the finality of the experience.[citation needed]

blue screen of death

The OED has the phrase "blue screen of death" from 1994, but I found an example from 10 October 1993 in Usenet:

After a successful installation, I proceeded to add TCP/IP, FTP server, and Services for Macintosh. NTAS would reach the login dialog, then die the blue screen death. After some experimentation, I determined that Services for Macintosh was conflicting with the 3COM Elnk16 ethernet card.

...

The only remaining problem is--NT still locks up the machine at exactly the same point. The only difference is that I don't get the blue screen of death--NT just freezes.

Dave Taylor, "NT Patch--doesn't fix Services for Macintosh", comp.os.ms-windows.nt.setup

The first version of Windows NT was released in July 1993.

BSoD

The blue screen of death is often abbreviated to BSoD (or BSOD).

But before Windows had the blue screen of death, BSoD referred to the black screen of death. The earliest Windows BSoD I found is from 7 Sep 1993 in bit.listserv.novell, by Douglas Scott

Subject: Re: Windows and the "Black Screen O' Death":

Start Windows run a few windows apps, start a dos shell and Black Screen of death often results. (Text mode screen with flashing cursor in top left.) In particular if Word for Windows 2.0a is run and a file opened then command.com run BSOD is guaranteed.

black screen of death

And black screen of death goes back to at least the 12 April 1993 issue of Infoworld (p.102, Notes From the Field) by Robert X. Cringely:

Headline: "If you ask nicely, Barney and Ray will cure your Black Screen of Death"

The kids in Redmond last week finally acknowledged to me the existence of the Black Screen of Death, which afflicts networked PCs runnig Windows 3.1.

...

So one company's panacea could be another's nightmare, causing more problems even than the Black Screen.

...

With Win 3.1 so pervasive, Microsoft's problem has become everyone's problem, which explains why at least one NetWare was able to get a Black Screen of Death fix from Novell.

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    I've sent this antedating to the OED (as well as the BSoD and black screen of death which they don't have). – Hugo Nov 10 '14 at 13:20
  • Nice ante-dating! – A E Nov 10 '14 at 14:19
  • Yeah, I vaguely recall "black screen of death", but it was mostly a techie thing, while "blue screen of death" was familiar enough to the general public to make it into the Sunday comics. (But isn't dating your ante bordering on incest?) – Hot Licks Nov 10 '14 at 16:56
  • OK, not the Sunday comics, but comics nonetheless. – Hot Licks Nov 10 '14 at 16:58
  • @HotLicks: "Blue screen of death" was also originally (and arguably still is) a techie thing, but as computers (especially Windows computers) have become more mainstream, so has the term. / FoxTrot is quite a techie cartoon, the latest jokes about emoji and binary. – Hugo Nov 11 '14 at 7:57
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  • It is very interesting, that the original blue screen of death seems to include the wording that you can "attempt to continue". I only remember the ones, asking you to "Press any key to continue..." which never worked. (Thus, "of death". Whatever was causing the blue screen just died on you and although the screen promises to resolve that it won't.) – skymningen Nov 10 '14 at 9:58
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    NT and OS/2 were earlier than Win95. – ChrisW Nov 10 '14 at 14:32
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Microsoft may not have a great record when it comes to devising catchy names for its products and features (Clippy the animated paper clip and Microsoft Bob the operating system excepted, of course), but the company certainly wasn't eager to have a fatal operating system error become popularly known as a "Blue Screen of Death." In fact, several early third-party discussions of the phenomenon note that Microsoft called it simply a "Stop screen." From Shane Stigler & Mark Lisenbardt, 1001 MCSE Tips (1998) [combined snippets]:

When a Windows NT computer encounters a fatal system error, the system will generate a blue screen, called a Stop screen (also called "the blue screen of death"), with debugging information. If you have configured your Windows NT system to do so, the system will write the contents of physical memory to a file for future examination. ...

A Stop screen contains five sections, each with its own unique purpose. The Stop screen's first section contains the debug port status indicators, which will appear if you have connected a null-modem cable to the system (to obtain debugging information about the system) and you have set the debug parameter in the boot.ini file.

The next section is the bugcheck information section, which contains the error code after the word Stop. An application developer can specify up to four parameters in the bugcheck information section to help an administrator debug the Windows NT system.

The earliest instance of the phrase that a Google Books search finds is in Michael Hyman, PC Roadkill (1995):

The background of such windows is blue, leading to the name "blue screen" or "blue screen of death." You can use this as a verb, as in, "I blue-screened NT this morning." While blue screens are rare, they are alarming when they occur. Usually they contain a message suggesting how to resolve the problem. One NT blue screen apparently says: "Reboot your machine. Do not reboot your machine."

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    OED has 1994 and I found a 1993: english.stackexchange.com/a/207306/9001 – Hugo Nov 10 '14 at 12:48
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    @Hugo: Your idea of checking Usenet for mentions of BOSD was both brilliant and thoroughly sensible. I started my 19-year tenure at a computer magazine in late 1995, and I can't remember a time when "blue screen of death" wasn't in common usage there—so I was surprised that Google Books turned up only one mention of the phrase from 1995, and nothing earlier. The phrase also almost certainly inspired the "click of death" problem that arose with Iomega Zip drives in 1998. – Sven Yargs Nov 10 '14 at 16:30
  • Yes, Usenet can be really good for computery terms, it's where people went to talk about them and find solutions to problems. I found Infoworld's "black screen of death" via Usenet: the first few threads say they heard about from Cringely. I wouldn't be surprised if there's earlier "blue screen of death" especially in non-indexed computer magazines, because the earlier Usenet examples seemed quite familiar with it. Or perhaps it's just from familiarisation with the earlier black variant. – Hugo Nov 12 '14 at 9:18
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Jargon file says:

Blue Screen of Death: n.

[common] This term is closely related to the older Black Screen of Death but much more common (many non-hackers have picked it up). Due to the extreme fragility and bugginess of Microsoft Windows, misbehaving applications can readily crash the OS (and the OS sometimes crashes itself spontaneously). The Blue Screen of Death, sometimes decorated with hex error codes, is what you get when this happens. (Commonly abbreviated BSOD.)

The following entry from the Salon Haiku Contest, seems to have predated popular use of the term:

Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death
No one hears your screams.

The Salon Haiku Error Messages contest (Internet Archive) attributes this poem to Peter Rothman.

The jargon file has this on the Black Screen of Death:

Black Screen of Death: [prob.: related to the Floating Head of Death in a famous Far Side cartoon.] A failure mode of Microsloth Windows. On an attempt to launch a DOS box, a networked Windows system not uncommonly blanks the screen and locks up the PC so hard that it requires a cold boot to recover. This unhappy phenomenon is known as The Black Screen of Death. See also Blue Screen of Death, which has become rather more common.

Bob Cringely was involved with the publication of the Jargon File (as the New Hacker's Dictionary) so Hugo's antedating makes total sense.

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Did the term exist as just "blue screen" before "of death" was appended to it?

The term "blue screen" does exist, although perhaps (I don't know) that was after rather than before the term "blue screen of death" was invented.

I say that because, for example, the term "blue screen" exists as a verb, e.g. "When I selected this menu item, the system blue screened."

It has become a term defined in the 'Urban Dictionary' i.e. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bluescreened

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Back when we were still using Windows 3.11 we always called the blue error screens Blue Screens of Death, so the origin of the term definitely precedes the launch of Windows 95 which we got as soon as it launched because we needed it to run 32-bit VB4.

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