EDIT: I appreciate all the answers and the effort provided here, but my question is not about the meaning about the word in English, but about the genesis of the word in computer graphics—I linked myself to the Wikipedia article, so I know it comes from the Greek fairy, but why?

I know what sprites are and how to use them. This question is purely linguistic.

I would be interested to know where the word sprite (as in computer graphics) comes from. English is not my mother tongue, and the word as such doesn't ring a bell for me...


3 Answers 3


" The term "sprite", a Greek fairy, was coined by one of the definers of the Texas Instruments 9918(A) video display processor (VDP)"

See wikipedia for further information.

  • " The term was derived from the fact that sprites, rather than being part of the bitmap data in the framebuffer, instead "floated" around on top without affecting the data in the framebuffer below, much like a ghost or "sprite". " (Wikipedia)
    – ulty4life
    Mar 14, 2016 at 23:29

I guess the reason to use the term "sprite" (ghost) for these graphics is that in general the graphic will be (partially) transparent and it will not disturb the background when being moved.

Both features were quite new at the time.

  • 1
    Also that it could be moved just by changing the X, Y coordinates.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jul 25, 2011 at 12:13
  • Nice reference! But I don't see what a ghost has to do with X and Y ;)
    – Emond
    Jul 25, 2011 at 13:04
  • because it moves around on the screen with ease and grace and it follows your command, just like a fairy sprite!
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jul 25, 2011 at 13:56
  • To me KitFox's link reads as though the programmers found the new capability of the hardware to just move things on the screen so magical, that they called it a sprite.
    – Noumenon
    Nov 10, 2014 at 12:02

"Sprite" has connotations of brightness and quick movement, which I guess were apposite for the namers.

But to some degree, the answer is "because they needed a word and that one was available".

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