[SIGCIS-Members] Origin of "vector" in vector graphics
Brian E Carpenter
brian.e.carpenter at gmail.com
Sat Feb 20 12:30:30 PST 2021
Bernard,
I think that 'vector' in the sense of directing an intercepting aircraft towards an enemy aircraft was first used by the RAF during WW II. (I'm not an expert but I did read a lot of popular books about WW II as a teenager.) You can find something about this and some references in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowding_system . So that was certainly not original to SAGE, and appears to go back at least to 1935. Presumably it derived from the use of 'vector' in mathematics, which goes back to the 1840s.
I have no idea whether using it to describe the SAGE displays was an independent choice, but again it very precisely matches the mathematical use of 'vector'. IMHO, it was just the right word for both cases.
(My personal first experience of vector graphics was as an Imlac PDS-1 programmer in 1971. Since I'd been taught about mathematical vectors, it just struck me as the obvious description.)
Regards
Brian Carpenter
On 20-Feb-21 21:27, Bernard Geoghegan wrote:
> Hi SIGCISers,
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> Can anyone advise on the origin of the term “vector graphics.”
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> Clearly, it literally describes a production of “vectors” on the screen by a concrete line-drawing technology. However, I’m wondering if there were multiple senses in that term initially. Specifically, looking through SAGE documentation from the 1950s and 1960s, esp, accounts of if operator displays, “vector” describes the physical trajectory of planes on the display. As SAGE was also a key source for early graphical interfaces, I’m wondering of the term “vector graphics” had a double connotation, as an analogy between the flight paths and the manner of illustrating graphics.
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> It’s not earth shaking, but it’s etymologically neat-o if one can trace “vector graphics” to multiple connotations at its coinage.
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> Best, b
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