54

Many things around the '80s or earlier use ‘/’ in their abbreviations and sometimes even in their names, for example

Nowadays it's typically used to express or or (sub)division so I find it a little bit weird. Why was it used like that?

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  • 6
    You forgot S/360 (1964), probably followed by PL/I (which you didn't forget).
    – chthon
    Mar 27 at 10:51
  • 4
    @chthon: S/360 seems to be a favorite pattern (general/specific) of IBM, they also had S/34 and all their other names like PS/2, OS/2, PL/I. But, of course, they seemed to brreak that with z/OS for some reason.
    – paxdiablo
    Mar 27 at 12:08
  • 3
    Maybe the reason is nothing more than IBM, and others of the era, trying to catch the "halo effect" from the S/360 name.
    – Brian H
    Mar 27 at 17:31
  • 1
    VAX/VMS Virtual Address eXtension/Virtual Memory System and RSTS/E Resource Sharing Time Sharing Extended - Digital Equipment Company.
    – IconDaemon
    Mar 27 at 21:56
  • 2
    I just wish to note one that is almost certainly an outlier: the "Apple //c." There it just seems that the / was used instead of an I for stylistic reasons. It's the Compact version of the Apple II computer.
    – trlkly
    Mar 28 at 7:57

4 Answers 4

31

Well, at least on some of those, it's a quite natural divider, such as you would see in:

  • 7 days/week (per).
  • 13 sectors/track (per).
  • Dear Sir/Madam (or).
  • 3/7 (of/over).

For your cited examples, they are read as:

  • CP/M, from Digital Research Inc (DRI), was the control program for microcomputers, though it may have originally been control program and monitor. See here or, if you want it direct from Gary Kildall, his "Computer Connections: People, Places, and Events in the Evolution of the Personal Computer Industry" manuscript (available at the Computer History Museum) states:

    So, I built an operting [sic] system program using the simulator. I called it CP/M, or a Control Program for Microcomputers, mimicking the name PL/M. For me, CP/M's sole purpose was to support the PL/M language. Nothing else.

  • MP/M, multitasking program for microcomputers, though multi-programming monitor and control program for microcomputer systems development in DRI's original specification.

  • Several others were also from DRI and followed a similar nomenclature: CP/NET and MP/NET were similar to the preceding two but meant to operate over networks, hence control/multitasking program for networks.

    • Similarly, CP/NOS and MP/NOS were for network operating systems (diskless configurations).
  • PL/M, programming language for microcomputers, foreshadowed above in the CP/M bullet point but more directly in the same document:

    PL/M stands for a "Programming Language for Microcomputers," and is still used by Intel customers today, though largely supplanted by the "C" programming language.

  • PL/S, programming language for systems. See references on the Wikipedia entry. Note that this was eventually replaced with PL/X, which is, at least up to several years ago when we parted ways, IBM's internal-use-only (I think) language for today's mainframe.

  • OS/8, the OS for the PDP-8. PS/8 I'd never heard of but it looks like (from cursory investigation) an early name for OS/8. The Wikipedia entry supports this as does the fact a later OS/12 was built for the, wait for it, ... , PDP-12 :-) An unofficial history FAQ also cites these, stating that OS/8 came from the unfortunately named (though probably intentional) "Fully Upward Compatible Keyboard Monitor", or *BLEEP* MONITOR :-)

  • MS/8 was also similar in that it was the monitor system for the PDP-8.

Contrast this "something something for something" approach with the (albeit fictional) MCP master control program from the original (and much better despite the much less modern graphics) Tron movie :-)


Some others, coming from IBM, have a similar format, seemingly dividing the general term from the specific instance:

  • PS/2, personal system 2.
  • OS/2, operating system 2, not half an operating system, as the early Windows crowd sometimes suggested :-)
  • PL/I, programming language 1.
  • PL/8, programming language 8 (based on PL/I, I believe).

The PS/2 port, which is a type of connector into which mice and keyboards are plugged into, is so named because it was first introduced on the PS/2. It is a mini-DIN connector. Previously (and this is before USB prevalence), PCs generally used a larger (DIN) connector.

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    That's also the intended etymology for "GNU/Linux"... like the "over" in ½ (1 over 2). "GNU userland on/over the Linux kernel".
    – ssokolow
    Mar 27 at 12:23
  • 1
    CP/M was originally Control Program/Monitor and even when reading / as for I still find it weird
    – phuclv
    Mar 27 at 14:32
  • 2
    @phuclv / can be for, and, or and many other words, all depending on context, so in Control Program/Monitor it read Control Program and Monitor
    – Raffzahn
    Mar 27 at 15:54
  • 39
    I find the 1st half of this answer deeply unconvincing. You've started with "slash is a natural divider" and cited 2 examples where it's used as a stand-in for "per": "7 days per week", "13 sectors per track". And then listed a bunch of places where it's standing in for the word "for". I can't think of any modern places that I'd use slash as "for"?
    – Brondahl
    Mar 27 at 19:15
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    @paxdiablo If you're asserting that CP/M is representing Control Program for each Microcomputer then sure. But that doesn't seem likely. You've expanded your examples, but still not given any that map to "for" in the way you've then used it in your answer.
    – Brondahl
    Mar 27 at 23:43
25

In addition to Paxdiablo's computing centred list it might be worth to add that it's more of a linguistic issue than a technical or computing one.

The Slash was quite present way before data processing, back then known as Solidus or Oblique. Solidus, Latin for Shilling, as it grew out of the long-s, a letter, lost to modern Alphabets, used separate Shilling from Pounds. The long-s looks a bit like a stroke with a hook. The hook got lost over time due sloppy writing, transforming it into a straight slash. Solidus is in fact the name used within the Unicode classification for what we commonly call a slash.

Development and use case goes roughly:

  • Slashes have been used as number separator long before Comma and Dot settled like today. This dates back to at least the 16th century.

  • The usage is originated in the fact that in handwriting spaces can be rather random in width and appearance. Thus, separation is needed/helpful, some symbol gets inserted. Either a specific, or a generic like a slash.

  • In fact, in many early Latin texts and many medieval handwriting spaces were optional or omitted at all. If a word separator was needed, like to switch for numerals, a middle dot was common.

  • Slashes are still common in some countries (e.g. USA) as date separator (YY/MM/DD).

  • It was and is used wherever one wants to concatenate items but still mark em as distinct. Like the PL/I example, were it serves to enable reading 'I' as one instead of the letter I.

  • Similar the use with other product names like System 360 abbreviated to S/360. This continues with S/360-67 as abbreviation for the System 360 Model 67. Here a hyphen is used as secondary divider

  • Usually these applications are about saving space, so the slash may as well serve as replacement for various words. They can stand for and, or, for or many others.

  • This essentially works like the title case used in English language publications. All words not capitalized are candidates to be left out at whole, or replaced by a slash. Like Control Program for Microcomputers becomes CP/M.

  • In addition, much like there isn't one title case, but each publication fosters their own, people tend to make up their own variation - for example it's common to write simply 360/67 instead of S/360-67.

  • Speaking of, even companies change mid way, as there are as well IBM publications writing like that - or turning everything upside down by creating z/OS for something that started out as OS/360 :))

  • Of course all of this is in addition garnished with heaps marketing related stylization, great for flashy advertisement and even better to play trademark games.

  • The whole thing goes not only for products, but company names as well, or who remembers that M/A/I (sometimes M|A|I, today MAI) originally stand for Management Assistance Incorporated?

Long story short: Once it was about abbreviations, today everything goes, use it whenever pleases your intention.


Now, when looking at computing in particular, then there is a clear lineage, at least for some of the usage:

  • IBM stylized PL/I to fit the scheme started with the together with the S/360

  • Which in turn may have originated in use by US military bureaucracy like Another-Dave pointed out.

  • Intel's PL/M is a simplified implementation of PL/I, so it's name follows the precedence set.

  • PL/M was written for Intel by Garry Kildall. When creating CP/M, not long after, the naming choice was obvious.

  • Not much sleuth skills needed to see the continuation in MP/M and all that followed in DR's timeline of OSes.

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    Hmm, technically solidus isn't Latin for shilling, it means solid, in that the Roman coins were close to pure gold. The term shilling came much, much later as the name for the British coin, though its etymology stretches back to earlier times (but not so far as the Roman collapse, I suspect). It may be more accurate to say that the original shilling was English (proto-something-or-other, more likely) for solidus. This is the sort of obscure information you can gather by listening to "The History of English" podcast :-) That doesn't detract from an otherwise very informative answer, however.
    – paxdiablo
    Mar 28 at 6:09
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    The abbreviations for the old currency were £sd. £ is a stylised L (which is often seen in 19C manuscripts) and stands for "libra pondo", a "pound by weight". "s" as mentioned above was solidii which became "shillings" in English usage, and "d" is for denarii which became the penny. As a footnote to £, recall that the abbreviation for pounds weight is "lb" and you can see the common origin. The Norman £ was one lb of silver, specifically silver "starlings" (pence) from whence "Sterling".
    – Martin
    Mar 28 at 8:36
  • 1
    Yes, but the terms "Lsd" and the £ symbol are a bit more recent, as are 19C manuscripts! Some of us ancients still remember learning Lsd at school, and indeed using it. My first pocket money was 1/-, rising later to 1/6. When my Great Uncle visited he used to shake hands with us kids, and palm off half a crown which Mum pretended not to notice. Homework for you: why was 13/4 a sum we had to memorise at school? ;-)
    – Martin
    Mar 28 at 11:05
  • 2
    @Martin - two-thirds of a pound (twice six-and-eight). Mar 28 at 12:05
  • 3
    A customer from Australia kept explaining a command format that included an "oblique". Inasmuch as I couldn't rotate characters 90 degrees (not in the '80's, anyway :) it took awhile to discover they were referring to the good old "slash".
    – gbarry
    Mar 29 at 14:56
8

This answer doesn't really answer the question of "why". But in any case....

In technical/computing fields, the solidus appeared in US military project designations. A few examples:

AN/FSQ-7 - , vacuum tube computer, part of the SAGE air defense system.

AN/FSQ-32 - solid state computer, also SAGE.

AN/FSG-1 - anti-aircraft defence system.

The structure of such names is that "AN" means "Army and Navy", "FSQ" is "Fixed Special eQuipment", and so on. The numeric part is a specific project.

It seems to me that the solidus is essentially an arbitrary choice of punctuation symbol to separate two logically distinct parts of the name, as is the hyphen before the numeric identifier. There's no more to it than that.

3
  • I understand / in case of separation because I already mentioned (sub)division in the question, but it's not like that for CP/M or PS/2 or most of the names I listed above
    – phuclv
    Mar 28 at 2:58
  • I do not see the distinction that you do. Mar 28 at 12:43
  • I also don't see the distinction. To me it seems like all are cases of "DOMAIN/SPECIFIC", rather than an abbreviation of the word "for".
    – Brian H
    Mar 28 at 13:36
3

It is being used in the same way as you describe the modern usage- to express a subdivision of a whole.

In the case of your cited examples, the division is between the Domain and the Specific instance. Domains are things like "OS", "CP", "PL", etc. and the part after the "/" names the specific instance. So, you can best understand it as:

"In the Domain of Control Programs, here is the Microcomputer specific one- CP/M".

-OR-

"In the Domain of Operating Systems (for IBM PC's), here is specific revision number 2- OS/2".

It's rather simple and logical. The answer by another-dave makes this point as well, using examples that start with "In the Domain of Army and Navy gear..."

4
  • I'm not necessarily convinced about the 2 in OS/2 being a revision number or instance. Given that we had OS/2 1.3 (text only), 2.x, 3.x and 4.x/Warp(?), it seems that would be versioning information. OS/2 may have just been named as (originally) the operating system for the PS/2 (and the PS/2 may have been named as the (better) successor to the PC). Though, if you mean revision in a much wider scope, your answer makes more sense.
    – paxdiablo
    Mar 29 at 1:35
  • Domain/Specific is exactly what I said in the question (sub)division. It's nothing new but I'm not convinced that most of the names are in the domain/specific format
    – phuclv
    Mar 29 at 3:08
  • @paxdiablo OS/2 introduced a GUI in version 1.1 the text only version was 1.0 - the desktop was changed massively for 2.0 (From Wikipedia and my own experience programming 1.x)
    – mmmmmm
    Mar 31 at 10:35
  • @mmmmmm: I stand corrected, thanks for the clarification.
    – paxdiablo
    Mar 31 at 14:28

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