follow Dictionary.com

How do you spell Hannukah?

punch card

noun
1.
a card having holes punched in specific positions and patterns so as to represent data to be stored or processed mechanically, electrically, or photoelectrically.
Also, punchcard, punched card.
Origin
1940-1945
1940-45
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
Cite This Source
British Dictionary definitions for punched card

punched card

noun
1.
(formerly) a card on which data can be coded in the form of punched holes. In computing, there were usually 80 columns and 12 rows, each column containing a pattern of holes representing one character Sometimes shortened to card
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
Cite This Source
punched card in Technology
storage, history
(Or "punch card") The signature medium of computing's Stone Age, now long obsolete outside of a few legacy systems. The punched card actually predates computers considerably, originating in 1801 as a control device for Jacquard looms. Charles Babbage used them as a data and program storage medium for his Analytical Engine:
"To those who are acquainted with the principles of the Jacquard loom, and who are also familiar with analytical formulæ, a general idea of the means by which the Engine executes its operations may be obtained without much difficulty. In the Exhibition of 1862 there were many splendid examples of such looms. [...] These patterns are then sent to a peculiar artist, who, by means of a certain machine, punches holes in a set of pasteboard cards in such a manner that when those cards are placed in a Jacquard loom, it will then weave upon its produce the exact pattern designed by the artist. [...] The analogy of the Analytical Engine with this well-known process is nearly perfect. There are therefore two sets of cards, the first to direct the nature of the operations to be performed -- these are called operation cards: the other to direct the particular variables on which those cards are required to operate -- these latter are called variable cards. Now the symbol of each variable or constant, is placed at the top of a column capable of containing any required number of digits."
-- from Chapter 8 of Charles Babbage's "Passages from the Life of a Philosopher", 1864.
The version patented by Herman Hollerith and used with mechanical tabulating machines in the 1890 US Census was a piece of cardboard about 90 mm by 215 mm. There is a widespread myth that it was designed to fit in the currency trays used for that era's larger dollar bills, but recent investigations have falsified this.
IBM (which originated as a tabulating-machine manufacturer) married the punched card to computers, encoding binary information as patterns of small rectangular holes; one character per column, 80 columns per card. Other coding schemes, sizes of card, and hole shapes were tried at various times.
The 80-column width of most character terminals is a legacy of the IBM punched card; so is the size of the quick-reference cards distributed with many varieties of computers even today.
See chad, chad box, eighty-column mind, green card, dusty deck, lace card, card walloper.
[Jargon File]
(1998-10-19)
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010 http://foldoc.org
Cite This Source

Word of the Day

Difficulty index for punch card

Few English speakers likely know this word

Word Value for punched

15
18
Scrabble Words With Friends