How to spell program

The word program has various meanings. The common meaning is this one, from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED):

An advance notice describing any formal proceedings, as an entertainment, a course of study, etc.

This word is spelled “program” in the US, and “programme” in the UK: one OED example usage is “The dance programme featured four works”. Fine. However, the word program also has a special meaning in our domain: a computer program, which is programmed by programmers. Over to OED again:

Noun: A series of coded instructions and definitions which when fed into a computer automatically directs its operation in performing a particular task.

Verb: To write a computer program.

Let’s be clear: this sense of the word is now spelt program, not programme, even in the UK. Even the OED admits it (in its definition of the verb above, and the note on the noun: “Now usu. in form program”). But that doesn’t stop various UK organisations from trying the British spelling:

  • Telegraph, Nov 2013: “This has discouraged software developers from writing programmes for Android”.
  • UK government, this week (Dec 2014): “In schools, a new GCSE in computer science [will cover] the most up-to-date issues including writing code, designing programmes…”.
  • The Guardian have recently got the hang of it — using programme in 2005 (“one programme can infringe many different patents at once”), but updating to program by 2012 (“Coderdojo inspires kids to program”).

Why does this matter? It bothers me because I’m a nitpicking pedant, but I think it’s also a culture signifier. Using phrases like “to programme a computer” or “writing a computer programme” shows that the person has never actually been involved with programming, or else they would realise that all programmers have adopted the US spelling (the US being quite big in computing, apparently). It always suggests someone writing about something they don’t know much about. So, if you want to avoid this, update your style guides: program, not programme.

2 thoughts on “How to spell program

  1. Neil very interesting and simple yet powerful point. Reminds me of an ad i saw the other day. It is for an ICT4D job and one of the requirements is that the candidate must be familiar with “programming”. I get the sense that they mean “programming” from a project development perspective and not software development. But the job is an ICT4D job. 🙂

  2. Good post. I have seen a lot of people say “computer programme” instead of “program”, so it’s good to get it out there that this is incorrect.

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