I was reading David Crystal’s thoroughly enjoyable book By Hook or by Crook. In it he tells us that the word ‘computer’ comes from the Latin ‘computare’ meaning to sum up. The word existed as a verb in sixteenth century France, but didn’t cross over into English until 1631. It is first recorded as a noun in 1641 meaning one who computes. The mechanical computer didn’t arrive until 1897.
Before I joined the National Air Traffic Control Service I spent two years working in accountancy. It wasn’t the right job for me, which is why I eventually moved on to pastures new. When I started trying to get to grips with accountancy, in the early nineteen sixties, I was given a mechanical desk-top computer. It was a solidly made device with a bank of metal levers and a handle at the side. Computing figures meant setting the levers to appropriate values and turning the handle an appropriate number of times: a far cry from my current desktop computer. It’s major plus point was that it never broke down.