glitch

Glitch is from the German glitschen, via the Yiddish gletshn, meaning to slip. The term is technical jargon in the electronics world to describe what happens when the inputs of a circuit change. When this occurs, the outputs briefly spike to some random value before settling to the correct value. If the circuit is queried during a glitch, a wildly inaccurate response may result. From this it acquired a more general sense meaning any malfunction.1

The term gained popular currency through the U.S. space program. From John Glenn’s 1962 Into Orbit:

Another term we adopted to describe some of our problems was “glitch.” Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical circuit which takes place when the circuit suddenly has a new load put on it...A glitch...is such a minute change in voltage that no fuse could protect against it.2


1Historical Dictionary of American Slang, v. 1, A-G, edited by Jonathan Lighter (New York: Random House, 1994), 903.

2Oxford English Dictionary, glitch, 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 4 Jan 2009 <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50095587>.

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