Dec 092013

Today Google popped up with a wonderful link to an interview from the past that I enjoyed emensely. It was a Letterman interview with a lady called Grace Hopper.


Her discourse style was so intriguing – military style? (I found it so interesting. How outdated would it be today?) And I was also intrigued by her last question. She wanted to know what David Letterman’s ancestry was. He clearly had little idea, but it seemed to be important to her. But not to him. Were we watching a generational shift at work?

Any thoughts?
Here’s another related post.

I’ve been sent a link to a comic about Grace Hopper, designed to inspire more young women to pursue careers in Computer Science.
Here’s the link: a comic about Grace Hopper? Here’s the link so you can check it out:

 Posted by at 7:28 am

  5 Responses to “Grace Hopper”

  1. that’s a great vid, thanks

    i especially enjoyed the visual aid of a nanosecond.

    i had a student a few months back who was telling me about her experiences of developing and selling software in the late eighties early nineties, really fascinating stuff.

    it’s interesting how stereotypes of computing as a male activity seem to dominate the mainstream discourse, though i guess it is not that different in many other aspects of contemporary conceptions of male and female roles?


  2. Thank you so much for responding Mura! And you’ve introduced another interesting element here – the male/female question. I hadn’t thought of that.

  3. I would say that there are quite a lot of older American women who feel that they can be as direct as they like, as they no longer need to stroke male egos, and that she’s not extraordinary in that respect. There’s a great poem by Jenny Joseph called “Warning” about it. In addition, she was probably always something of a geek: this is a woman who disassembled seven alarm clocks at the age of seven to find out how they worked. Note that this interview was in 1986, before geekdom became a kind of stardom. The crack implying Reagan’s inability to do most things for himself is particularly notable in that he was still President at the time (though no longer her superior).

    When she said “It depends on what kind of sense of humor you had”, I think she was about to make an ethnic joke and wanted to make sure that it didn’t step on Letterman’s particular ethnicity. I suspect his “shoveling” answer was an attempt to head that off. Letterman is in fact of English and German origin. (I have a friend who was born in California. When asked where his ancestors came from, he replies “Kansas City”, which is true of the most remote ancestor he knows. His surname is unusual but not clearly associated with any particular ethnic origin.)

    Her bag probably also contained a wire spool with a microsecond of wire wrapped around it (just under 1000 feet).

  4. Oh great insights John, thank you! And I loved the poem link. I want to wear purple too. Oddly enough I read about another extraordinarily bright and determined American woman today called Marion Stokes. Thinking it would be useful to someone, she singlehandedly taped the news for 35 years. And it will be useful – her recordings are going to be made available to the public through the internet archive library I can’t link to the Philadelphia Inquirer piece I read but also found this this online piece about her

  5. Hi Vickie:

    Grace Hopper’s idiolect is an example of American military/police dialect. It’s characterized by a flattening of intonation and a declarative matter-of-fact manner of address designed to get the message across as economically as possible, and marked by a singular lack of humo(u)r. Additionally, Ms. Hopper’s spare mode of address is influenced by her age; she grew up during a worldwide Depression, followed by a world war, when there was no time to waste on polite digressions or conversational grace notes.

    All the best,


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