I saw the word database today with a hyphen in it (“data-base”), and it got me thinking: who coined the term “database”, and where the heck did that suffix -base come from? These days we see it all over. It’s used to imply database-like behavior, because it was lifted from database. For example: knowledgebase, infobase, videobase, metabase, sportbase, imagebase, and so on.
But whoever coined “database”, why did they choose -base as a root? What did it mean then?
Update: a helpful reader (thanks, Ken!) sent along the Oxford English Dictionary entry for database:
1. A structured collection of data held in computer storage; esp. one that incorporates software to make it accessible in a variety of ways; transf., any large collection of information.
1962 Technical Memo. (System Development Corp., Calif.) TM-WD-16/007/00. i. 5 A ‘data base’ is a collection of entries containing item information that can vary in its storage media and in the characteristics of its entries and items. 1967 E. R. LANNON in Cox & Grose Organiz. Bibliogr. Rec. by Computer IV. 83 The Search area provides a means of querying the data base. 1971 New Scientist 4 Mar. 498/1 A database is a generalised collection of data not linked to one set of functional questions. 1972 Computer Jrnl. XV. 290/1 Engineering information files set up on disc by Hawker Siddeley Aviation Ltd...form the data base for a fully integrated production control system. 1972 Science 3 Nov. 472/1 The data base from which the volumes are compiled is maintained on magnetic tape and is updated weekly. 1973 Nature 13 Apr. 485/1, I gave a list of the fifty most cited authors for 1967, using the 1967 SCI as the data base. 1974 Florida FL Reporter XIII. 88/2 A number of sociolinguists..gradually moved closer to the creolist position as their data-base expanded. 1981 IBM Jrnl. Res. & Devel. XXV. 505 Around 1964 a new term appeared in the computer literature to denote a new concept. The term was ‘data base’, and it was coined by workers in military information systems to denote collections of data shared by end-users of time-sharing computer systems. The commercial data processing world..appropriated ‘data base’ to denote the data collection which results from consolidating the data requirements of individual applications. 1984 SMITH & BAILEY Mod. Eng. Legal Syst. i. 10 It would..cause chaos, even in an age of computerised legal data bases, if every decision on whether a defendant had behaved ‘unreasonably’..could potentially be cited. 1985 Sunday Times 10 Mar. 80/3 CIR went through its data-base looking for companies interested in investing in new ideas in electronics. 1985 Ashmolean IX. 1/1 A museum and its records are one vast database.