4

glitch /ɡliCH/

noun: glitch; plural noun: glitches

1. a sudden, usually temporary malfunction or irregularity of equipment.

"a draft version was lost in a computer glitch"

1.1 an unexpected setback in a plan.

"this has been the first real glitch they've encountered in a three months' tour"

Verb

1. suffer a sudden malfunction or irregularity.

"her job involves troubleshooting when systems glitch"

(Oxford Dictionaries)

According to Google:

The word "glitch" was used more widely known in the late 1900s, in the US, of an unknown origin. The original sense was ‘a sudden surge of current,’ hence ‘malfunction, hitch’ in astronautical slang.

'Glitch' has an unknown origin but was more common in the US.

What is the origin of the word glitch?

  • I recall some discussion of the term in the book We Seven (1962), about the first 7 US astronauts. – Hot Licks Nov 3 '15 at 0:04
  • @Hot Licks. Yes. John Glenn is the source, according to J.E. Lighter, Random Hose Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994): "Another engineering term we used [in Project Mercury] to describe some of our problems was 'glitch.' Literally speaking, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical circuit which takes place when the circuit suddenly has a new load put on it... " – Sven Yargs Nov 3 '15 at 0:10
  • It's a computer term. Use "snag" instead. – Ricky Nov 3 '15 at 0:10
  • 4
    Wikipedia says Yiddish gletshn or German glitschen, both meaning something like slip or slide. And slip or slide is a pretty reasonable term for a sudden change in voltage. And we hired lots of German rocket scientists after WW II, who eventually ended up working on the space program. – Peter Shor Nov 3 '15 at 0:16
  • 1
    @SvenYargs - Any borscht circuit comic can tell you that "glitch" is just a funny word. – Hot Licks Nov 3 '15 at 0:21
6

I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned the Online Etymology Dictionary so far. It gives a plausible origin in a Yiddish word that itself comes from German.

glitch (n.)

1959, American English, possibly from Yiddish glitsh "a slip," from glitshn "to slip," from German glitschen, and related gleiten "to glide" (see glide (v.)). Perhaps directly from German. Apparently it began as technical jargon among radio and television engineers, but was popularized and given a broader meaning c. 1962 by the U.S. space program.

All you get today is "glitch" wherever splicing occurs. "Glitch" is slang for the "momentary jiggle" that occurs at the editing point if the sync pulses don't match exactly in the splice. [Sponsor, Volume 13, June 20, 1959]

  • [Google's Ngram Viewer] (books.google.com/ngrams/…) certainly shows how it took off /cough/ in the sixties. – T. Ioca Nov 3 '15 at 0:25
  • @T.Ioca - Yeah, but that's just a glitch in the statistics. – Hot Licks Nov 3 '15 at 0:29
  • @T.Ioca, I'm not sure if that is irony on your part. If you think that Google Books shows occurrences of 'glitch' before the sixties then you need to follow the links and quote the actual text. Google Books can give false positives. Example: "glitch was the principle adopted by the greatest English statesmen" The Parliamentary Debates: v. 1-41,Nov. 1803. Follow the link and you will see that the word was actually 'such'. books.google.co.uk/… – chasly from UK Nov 3 '15 at 0:44
  • P.S. Other examples can come from the family name Glitch houseofnames.com/glitch-family-crest – chasly from UK Nov 3 '15 at 0:49
  • @chasly Yes, I looked at quite a few of the late 1800s occurences before I commented and they were without exception a scanning error (normally from "which" or a family names). 'Took off' was intended as a very poor pun rather than irony. I go with your Yiddish etymology, I just think it's interesting to see how the word rises up like a rocket in the Ngram from the early sixties. :-) – T. Ioca Nov 3 '15 at 10:18
3

A couple of Google Books search results yield matches from as early as 1953. From Television Magazine, volume 10 (1953) [snippet view]:

No more a-c power line "glitches" (horizontal-bar interference)— because camera filaments are operated from a separate d-c source.

A check of the Internet confirms that Television Magazine began in 1944, which would make 1953 the expected year for volume 10 to appear. Also unconfirmed, but probably from 1953 or 1954 is this instance from Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, volumes 1-2 (1953–1954[?]):

The character of the noise voltage was found to be rather important, and tests showed that a smooth type of hiss gave best results. Generators having high-level spikes or "glitches," even when followed by some degree of limiting in succeeding amplifiers, did not produce as good an effect as those having smooth, random electrical noise output.

The earliest indisputable instance of the term in Google Books search results, however, appears to be from an advertisement for Bell Telephone Systems that ran in (among other periodicals) the October 15, 1955, issue of The Billboard:

They Talk of Pigeons and Glitch

"Pigeons" are not birds to a Bell System technician. They are impulse noises causing spots which seem to fly across the TV picture. And when he talks of "glitch" with a fellow technician, he means a low frequency interference which appears as a narrow horizontal bar moving vertically through the picture.

Robrt Chapman & Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition (1995) trace the term only as far back as 1962, but this reference work identifies the source as being "fr[om] German glitschen (or Yiddish glitshen), "slip."

  • Great research! That's really interesting. I wonder if it came into American English via German technicians and scientists who came to work on the rocket program and in other areas after 1945. Is there an equivalent forum for the German language, does anyone know? EDIT: Oh, just saw Peter Shor made the same point earlier. Teach me to read right through first! – T. Ioca Nov 3 '15 at 10:21
  • Corresponds (in usage) to OED's first given usage in 1962, by John Glenn: "Another term we adopted to describe some of our problems was ‘glitch’. Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical circuit which takes place when the circuit suddenly has a new load put on it... A glitch..is such a minute change in voltage that no fuse could protect against it. OED says etymology unknown, but Green's dict of slang says Ger. glitschen, to slip, via Yid. glitshen – AmE speaker Nov 3 '17 at 13:31
  • The fact that those first two reference put the word in scare quotes suggest that it was not widely understood and so, presumably, had not been in use for long before then. – user184130 Jul 2 '18 at 21:17
0

I first saw the word glitch used in a Mad magazine when I was a child. I cannot cite the exact year or issue as that was over 40 years ago. They did not use it a spike in an electronic device. They used it as a "sound effect" when someone stepped in poo and slid so it was used in its correct context.

  • 1
    Hello, Ken. This may well be true but without a checkable reference is not a good 'answer' on ELU. Note that Hot Licks only gives the 1962 'We Seven' reference in a 'comment', as he's not sure that this was a first mention, and this is 56 years ago. – Edwin Ashworth May 15 '18 at 16:36
-1

Etymology of Glitch: I heard from my Brother in Law who retired as a Chief Petty Officer that GLITCH is an acronym for Gremlin Loose In The Computer Housing and may date back as far a WWII.

  • 1
    Except that "computer" was not a commonly used term prior to about 1955. – Hot Licks Jul 2 '18 at 21:13
  • Fake etymologies often invent acronyms (backronyms). See also posh and news. – user184130 Jul 2 '18 at 21:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.