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[kuh m-pyoo-ter] /kəmˈpyu tər/
a programmable electronic device designed to accept data, perform prescribed mathematical and logical operations at high speed, and display the results of these operations. Mainframes, desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones are some of the different types of computers.
a person who computes; computist.
Origin of computer
1640-50; compute + -er1; compare Middle French computeur
Related forms
computerlike, adjective
noncomputer, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for computer
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • A second scheme involves a disk or drum on which the computer writes the words to generate the pattern.

  • Of course Ned was a perfect shot—so would I be with a computer for a brain.

    Arm of the Law Harry Harrison
  • I can send all the backups and my computer to your office right now.

    Makers Cory Doctorow
  • Banasel was whistling tunelessly as he set up readings on a computer.

    The Players Everett B. Cole
  • A pushed-back cap had the crossed slide-rule symbol of ship's computer man.

    Planet of the Damned Harry Harrison
British Dictionary definitions for computer


  1. a device, usually electronic, that processes data according to a set of instructions. The digital computer stores data in discrete units and performs arithmetical and logical operations at very high speed. The analog computer has no memory and is slower than the digital computer but has a continuous rather than a discrete input. The hybrid computer combines some of the advantages of digital and analog computers See also digital computer, analog computer, hybrid computer
  2. (as modifier): computer technology, related prefix cyber-
a person who computes or calculates
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for computer

1640s, "one who calculates," agent noun from compute (v.). Meaning "calculating machine" (of any type) is from 1897; in modern use, "programmable digital electronic computer" (1945 under this name; theoretical from 1937, as Turing machine). ENIAC (1946) usually is considered the first. Computer literacy is recorded from 1970; an attempt to establish computerate (adjective, on model of literate) in this sense in the early 1980s didn't catch on. Computerese "the jargon of programmers" is from 1960, as are computerize and computerization.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A New York Congressman says the use of computers to record personal data on individuals, such as their credit background, "is just frightening to me." [news article, March 17, 1968]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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computer in Science
A programmable machine that performs high-speed processing of numbers, as well as of text, graphics, symbols, and sound. All computers contain a central processing unit that interprets and executes instructions; input devices, such as a keyboard and a mouse, through which data and commands enter the computer; memory that enables the computer to store programs and data; and output devices, such as printers and display screens, that show the results after the computer has processed data.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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computer in Culture

computer definition

An electronic device that stores and manipulates information. Unlike a calculator, it is able to store a program and retrieve information from its memory. Most computers today are digital, which means they perform operations with quantities represented electronically as digits.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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computer in Technology

A journal of the IEEE Computer Society.

A machine that can be programmed to manipulate symbols. Computers can perform complex and repetitive procedures quickly, precisely and reliably and can quickly store and retrieve large amounts of data.
The physical components from which a computer is constructed (electronic circuits and input/output devices) are known as "hardware". Most computers have four types of hardware component: CPU, input, output and memory. The CPU (central processing unit) executes programs ("software") which tell the computer what to do. Input and output (I/O) devices allow the computer to communicate with the user and the outside world. There are several kinds of memory - fast, expensive, short term memory (e.g. RAM) to hold intermediate results, and slower, cheaper, long-term memory (e.g. magnetic disk and magnetic tape) to hold programs and data between jobs.
See also analogue computer.

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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