The word "pixel" was first published in 1965 by Frederic C. Billingsley of JPL, to describe the picture elements of video images from space probes to the Moon and Mars. However, Billingsley did not coin the term himself. Instead, he got the word "pixel" from Keith E. McFarland, at the Link Division of General Precision in Palo Alto, who did not know where the word originated. McFarland said simply it was "in use at the time" (circa 1963).
The word is a combination of picture and element, via pix. The word pix appeared in Variety magazine headlines in 1932, as an abbreviation for the word pictures, in reference to movies. By 1938, "pix" was being used in reference to still pictures by photojournalists.
The concept of a "picture element" dates to the earliest days of television, for example as "Bildpunkt" (the German word for pixel, literally 'picture point') in the 1888 German patent of Paul Nipkow. According to various etymologies, the earliest publication of the term picture element itself was in Wireless World magazine in 1927, though it had been used earlier in various U.S. patents filed as early as 1911.
Some authors explain pixel as picture cell, as early as 1972. In graphics and in image and video processing, pel is often used instead of pixel. For example, IBM used it in their Technical Reference for the original PC.
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Famous quotes containing the word etymology:
“The universal principle of etymology in all languages: words are carried over from bodies and from the properties of bodies to express the things of the mind and spirit. The order of ideas must follow the order of things.”
—Giambattista Vico (16881744)
“Semantically, taste is rich and confusing, its etymology as odd and interesting as that of style. But while stylederiving from the stylus or pointed rod which Roman scribes used to make marks on wax tabletssuggests activity, taste is more passive.... Etymologically, the word we use derives from the Old French, meaning touch or feel, a sense that is preserved in the current Italian word for a keyboard, tastiera.”
—Stephen Bayley, British historian, art critic. Taste: The Story of an Idea, Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things, Random House (1991)