If I’m not mistaken, the terms software and hardware were ordinary English words, but they have been widely popularized by popularity of computers. How much they are common (and acceptable by native speakers) to be used for other systems; for example, defining software and hardware in a company. It is indeed common in management literature, but I am not sure if it is plain English or a metaphor for comparing the system with well-known computer architecture.

In a logical comparison, we can define a coach as software and players as hardware (just a schema not exactly). How does is sound to a native speaker? Of course, I mean in general, not this exaggerated example.

  • I'd call the coach an end user, the playbook software, and the players (team) hardware if I wanted to make that analogy. Native speakers will probably generally understand what you're on about if you use those terms, but even computer-literate people might find using the terminology this way a bit off-putting. I don't find it at all interesting or enlightening. Business-speak, and business management-speak in particular, though, is even worse to me. Jargon is for shoptalk with your peers, not for conversations with "civilians", IMHO.
    – user21497
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 4:07
  • @BillFranke I understand what you mean, but I am interested to know what native speakers can use for this categorization. A terminology which can be applied to almost all systems (e.g. for the sake of comparison). Dividing mastermind from routine works.
    – Googlebot
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 15:31

2 Answers 2


Hardware does have an ordinary meaning: “[t]ools, machinery, and other durable equipment”.

Software only has its technical meaning, which was coined by analogy to hardware.

As you noted, these words have now developed broader, metaphorical meaning, so that we can, for example, talk about the human mind as software of the body.

Wetware is another term that has been coined by analogy.

You can research these words fully by googling [ define hardware ], etc., or by visiting OneLook.com and searching from there.

  • 2
    The word hardware is indeed still in common use. In the U.S., almost every town has a hardware store, and they don't sell computers there.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 9:03
  • As a matter of fact, I started with searching, but it is hard to find alternative usages for terms which are extremely popular in a field. Moreover, my purpose is to discover usage rather than meaning or definition.
    – Googlebot
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 15:34

The terms have sometimes been coopted by other fields, perhaps in places where computer geeks were prevalent. For example, psychologists talking about differences in patient behavior due to the hardware (i.e. physiological effects) vs. software (i.e. mental state).

Your example seems like it could fall into usage among like-minded folks who are playing with language, but perhaps not as a standard usage...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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