Saturday, October 26, 2013


With at the center of national focus right now, it is almost impossible to watch, read or listen to the news without the word "glitch" coming up. So it seemed like a good one to turn my attention to here. It's such a satisfying word to say for such an unsatisfying experience, isn't it?

Unfortunately, it's not so satisfying to track down its etymology, as all sources I've read refuse to speculate beyond the "origin unknown" category. However, they all seem to have the same guess about it, namely that it slipped into American English through  the Yiddish glitsh, "a slip" and hence back to the German verb glitchen,  "to slip". Or it could have come straight from the German. All the same, that doesn't seem so unknown to me.

The word's short term history since its adaption is more straightforward. It was used in the world of electronics to mean a brief or sudden surge in voltage in an electronic circuit. The U.S. Space Program then expanded its meaning and John Glenn is credited with the first written use in English in 1962 in his book Into Orbit where he said that they had adopted the term to describe some of their own problems in the program.

Given the human capacity for error, it's only surprising that it wasn't adopted a lot earlier. For example, when I previewed before posting, the title of this post appeared as "glitchn". Now how did that happen?



  1. Thanks you your enquiry about "glitch" I found this interesting site, Seana.

  2. Very interesting, Maria. It looks like glitch hasn't made the leap to France or even been modified into one single word in French but is translated in various ways. I wonder if they'll hold out, as glitch has obviously proven very versatile.

  3. I think Don Martin used glitch as a sound effect in his Mad magazine cartoons, to indicate stepping in some gooey, unpleasant substance.

  4. If it was slippery, that would make sense.