Geek Trivia

The First Recorded Use Of The Word “Pixel” Was Used To Describe?

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The origin of the word “pixel” to describe individual elements of a video display is murky at best. The use of the word “pix” as shorthand for picture first appeared during the early 1930s in Variety magazine as an abbreviation for the word pictures (in reference to movies), and by the end of the decade, it had been widely adopted by photojournalists in reference to still pictures.

The precursor to pixel, “picture element”, was also used to describe the individual elements in a screen-based display. Somewhere along the way, pictures was shortened to “pix” (slang for pics) in computer lingo and element was shortened to “el”, leading to the two being combined into “pixel” to refer to a single point on a display (the term pel has also been used instead of pixel at times).

It wasn’t until 1965, however, that we first see the word pixel in writing. There we find Frederic C. Billingsley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory using the word pixel to describe the individual elements of a video images sent back from space probes to the Moon and Mars. Billingsley had picked up the word from his friend Keith E. McFarland at the Link Division of General Precision in Palo Alto who, in turn, couldn’t recall where he’d heard it, but just that the word was in common usage at that point among computer scientists and researchers.

Image courtesy of NASA.