Q: I’m a teacher and I asked my class to track down the origin of the word “motherboard.” No one could find out who coined it. Do you have any leads?
A: The earliest known reference to “motherboard,” the main circuit board of a personal computer, comes from a 1971 article in the British journal Electrical and Electronics Abstracts, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The article refers to “one daughterboard mounted vertically on a computer size motherboard.”
Other early citations use the terms ‘mother’ board and mother-board. The OED doesn’t go further into the etymology of the word except to state the obvious: it’s a combination of “mother” and “board.” In other words, it’s the mother of all boards.
A website called the Technology Blog offers this additional bit of information:
As with so many other computer terms, the word ‘motherboard’ has its origins in the very early days of PC’s. At that time, computers and other electronic devices would have a main board into which smaller boards connected at right angles to add extra memory or perhaps network cards. These secondary cards were called daughterboards and the main board a motherboard. But there’s no such thing as a fatherboard or a sonboard!
I’m sorry that I can’t be more helpful. Perhaps one of the readers of The Grammarphobia Blog will have more to say on the subject.