Any idea how the moderately gruesome phrase iron out bugs originated? It brings a wonderfully vivid picture to my mind's eye!

3 Answers 3


It is a combination of two separate metaphorical ideas that are not etymologically linked.

The first - iron out - is a phrasal verb meaning to resolve.

The second - bugs - refers to a malfunction of computer hardware, and its origins are debatable.

Combine the two, and you arrive at resolve computer malfunctions.

  • I don't know about debatable -- The story of a moth caught in a relay and found by computer pioneer Grace Hopper is an article of faith to some computer scientists.
    – pavium
    Jul 22, 2011 at 13:50
  • 5
    @pavium That is the apocryphal explanation, and makes for a nice story, but the usage dates to far earlier than that.
    – HaL
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:29
  • 2
    That's the thing about faith: it's often irrational.
    – pavium
    Jul 22, 2011 at 14:32
  • The phrase (like bug) predates widespread knowledge of computing – it occurs in a 1931 Materials Engineering textbook. And in modern usage, it is not restricted to software bugs, as we see in a Jack Nicklaus memoir. I suspect the modern meaning of bug has caused to often refer to software but this is not exclusive Feb 28, 2017 at 0:11

Iron out bugs means, basically, to debug. It comes from a conjunction of the phrase iron out, figurative for resolve (a problem), and the programming term bug.

According to dictionary.com:

-Verb phrase
26. iron out,
a. to iron or press (an item of clothing or the like).
b. to remove (wrinkles) from by ironing.
c. to resolve or clear up (difficulties, disagreements, etc.): The problem was ironed out months ago.


You can also use "Iron Out" - Rust Stain Remover, to remove everything.

As for bugs, as @Hal saids: it is malfunction of computer hardware. Therefore, "iron out bugs" means remove computer bugs.

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