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Word Wisdom: Glitch

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

The United States of America has enough election problems and challenges that they did not need any glitches during the recent November vote. However, Sudiksha Kochi of USA Today, on November 9, 2022, wrote, “Election machines at about 60 voting sites in Maricopa County experienced a simple ballot printing glitch.” Watch out for those glitches.

The dictionary defines glitch as a minor malfunction or problem that causes a temporary setback. The word probably comes from the Yiddish word glitsh, meaning slippery places. [Yiddish is a Germanic language historically spoken by Ashkenazi Jews that has become one of the world’s most widespread languages.] Glitsh derives from glitshn indicating to slide or glide. The Old High German word glitan was used to denote to glide. Many Yiddish words migrated into English when descendants of Yiddish-speaking immigrants found no English word to describe what they were trying to express.

In the early 1900s some radio announcers used glitsh to designate on-air mistakes. Tony Randall, of Odd Couple fame, wrote, “The first time I heard the word glitch (spelling different from the Yiddish) was in 1941 in Worcester. I got a job there as an announcer at WTAG. When an announcer made a mistake, such as putting on the wrong record or reading the wrong commercial, anything technical, or anything concerning the sales department, that was called a glitch and had to be entered on the Glitch Sheet, which was a mimeographed form. The older announcers told me the term had been used as long as they could remember.” (On Language, What’s the Good Word, 1982)

In a 1953 ad in Broadcasting Magazine, RCA boasted that their TV camera has "no more a-c power line 'glitches' (horizontal-bar interference)." And Bell Telephone ran an ad in a 1955 issue of Billboard showing two technicians monitoring the TV signals that were broadcast on Bell System lines: "When he talks of 'glitch' with a fellow technician, he means a low frequency interference which appears as a narrow horizontal bar moving vertically through the picture."

Astronaut John Glenn, in his 1962 book Into Orbit, felt the need to explain the term to his readers: "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."

From this mid-1990s usage glitch moved into everyday English. All sorts of things can be described as having a glitch if something isn’t quite right and you suspect an abnormality. I recently had some medical tests come back that indicated a higher number than normal. I wondered, and the doctor confirmed, that a repeat test should be done to determine if the high result came because of a glitch in my blood or the test procedure.

The world of computer issues has used glitch to describe many false or spurious electronic signals that disrupt a computer’s operations. If you’re a gamer you might even take advantage of a glitch that causes something unexpected, and sometimes beneficial, to happen in the game. Everyone once and awhile the lights in our house seem to dim or brown out, and I wonder if it is a glitch in the electrical grid.

By definition, a glitch is a temporary setback. So, if you run into a glitch, chill out, and move forward. However, if it turns out not to be a glitch, maybe there is something to be concerned about or there is something that needs to be adjusted. Remember that glitches have been happening since humans walked the earth, but we have only named them such during the last 100 years. As we move into the hopeful season of Advent, may the problems in your life be just glitches.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to . Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 

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