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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Language \Lan"guage\, n. [OE. langage, F. langage, fr. L. lingua the tongue, hence speech, language; akin to E. tongue. See Tongue, cf. Lingual.]

  1. Any means of conveying or communicating ideas; specifically, human speech; the expression of ideas by the voice; sounds, expressive of thought, articulated by the organs of the throat and mouth.

    Note: Language consists in the oral utterance of sounds which usage has made the representatives of ideas. When two or more persons customarily annex the same sounds to the same ideas, the expression of these sounds by one person communicates his ideas to another. This is the primary sense of language, the use of which is to communicate the thoughts of one person to another through the organs of hearing. Articulate sounds are represented to the eye by letters, marks, or characters, which form words.

  2. The expression of ideas by writing, or any other instrumentality.

  3. The forms of speech, or the methods of expressing ideas, peculiar to a particular nation.

  4. The characteristic mode of arranging words, peculiar to an individual speaker or writer; manner of expression; style.

    Others for language all their care express.

  5. The inarticulate sounds by which animals inferior to man express their feelings or their wants.

  6. The suggestion, by objects, actions, or conditions, of ideas associated therewith; as, the language of flowers.

    There was . . . language in their very gesture.

  7. The vocabulary and phraseology belonging to an art or department of knowledge; as, medical language; the language of chemistry or theology.

  8. A race, as distinguished by its speech. [R.]

    All the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshiped the golden image.
    --Dan. iii. 7.

  9. Any system of symbols created for the purpose of communicating ideas, emotions, commands, etc., between sentient agents.

  10. Specifically: (computers) Any set of symbols and the rules for combining them which are used to specify to a computer the actions that it is to take; also referred to as a computer lanugage or programming language; as, JAVA is a new and flexible high-level language which has achieved popularity very rapidly.

    Note: Computer languages are classed a low-level if each instruction specifies only one operation of the computer, or high-level if each instruction may specify a complex combination of operations. Machine language and assembly language are low-level computer languages. FORTRAN, COBOL and C are high-level computer languages. Other computer languages, such as JAVA, allow even more complex combinations of low-level operations to be performed with a single command. Many programs, such as databases, are supplied with special languages adapted to manipulate the objects of concern for that specific program. These are also high-level languages.

    Language master, a teacher of languages. [Obs.]

    Syn: Speech; tongue; idiom; dialect; phraseology; diction; discourse; conversation; talk.

    Usage: Language, Speech, Tongue, Idiom, Dialect. Language is generic, denoting, in its most extended use, any mode of conveying ideas; speech is the language of articulate sounds; tongue is the Anglo-Saxon term for language, esp. for spoken language; as, the English tongue. Idiom denotes the forms of construction peculiar to a particular language; dialects are varieties of expression which spring up in different parts of a country among people speaking substantially the same language.


higher programming language \higher programming language\ n. (Computers) a computer programming language with an instruction set allowing one instruction to code for several assembly language instructions.

Note: The aggregation of several assembly-language instructions into one instruction allows much greater efficiency in writing computer programs. Most programs are now written in some higher programming language, such as BASIC, FORTRAN, COBOL, C, C++, or JAVA.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1960, U.S. Defense Department acronym, from "Common Business-Oriented Language."


n. A programming language developed in the late 1950s especially for business applications.

COBOL (disambiguation)

COBOL can mean:

  • COBOL, (Common Business Oriented Language), one of the oldest computer programming languages
    • BLIS/COBOL, an operating system written in COBOL by Data General
    • COBOL ReSource, a COBOL development environment by Wang Laboratories
    • CobolScript, a COBOL-based web HTML scripting language

COBOL (, an acronym for common business-oriented language) is a compiled English-like computer programming language designed for business use. It is imperative, procedural and, since 2002, object-oriented. COBOL is primarily used in business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments. COBOL is still widely used in legacy applications deployed on mainframe computers, such as large-scale batch and transaction processing jobs. But due to its declining popularity and the retirement of experienced COBOL programmers, programs are being migrated to new platforms, rewritten in modern languages or replaced with software packages. Most programming in COBOL is now purely to maintain existing applications.

COBOL was designed in 1959, by CODASYL and was partly based on previous programming language design work by Grace Hopper, commonly referred to as "the (grand)mother of COBOL". It was created as part of a US Department of Defense effort to create a portable programming language for data processing. Intended as a stopgap, the Department of Defense promptly forced computer manufacturers to provide it, resulting in its widespread adoption. It was standardized in 1968 and has since been revised four times. Expansions include support for structured and object-oriented programming. The current standard is ISO/ IEC 1989:2014.

COBOL has an English-like syntax, which was designed to be self-documenting and highly readable. However, it is verbose and uses over 300 reserved words. In contrast with modern, succinct syntax like , COBOL has a more English-like syntax (in this case, ). COBOL code is split into four divisions (identification, environment, data and procedure) containing a rigid hierarchy of sections, paragraphs and sentences. Lacking a large standard library, the standard specifies 43 statements, 87 functions and just one class.

Academic computer scientists were generally uninterested in business applications when COBOL was created and were not involved in its design; it was (effectively) designed from the ground up as a computer language for businessmen, with an emphasis on inputs and outputs, whose only data types were numbers and strings of text. COBOL has been criticized throughout its life, however, for its verbosity, design process and poor support for structured programming, which resulted in monolithic and incomprehensible programs.