I ask because other acronyms could certainly have been chosen, but BIOS has a specific meaning in Ancient Greek, which, along with Latin, are the source languages of much of our scientific terminology.

βίος : life (Autenrieth)

See also βίος (Liddell/Scott)

This word is the root of modern words like biology.

The acronym was apparently created by Gary Kildall, and I'm wondering if he, or anyone who was working with him, has commented on this.

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    Do you mean BIOS as in the computing term? Do you have any reason to think there is some connection? Also, I'm not sure this is the best site for this question; it's more about computing, or language, than it is about "history". – IMSoP Jan 8 '19 at 18:22
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    @IMSoP absolutely I think there is a connection, and that the choice of that specific combinations of letters was intentional. But, sans commentary from the coiner, it can only be speculation. Tradition of Greek terminology aside, there is a strong analogy at play. – DukeZhou Jan 8 '19 at 18:35
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    @IMSoP I have to strongly disagree on that count. I'd say it's definitely analogous to a biological system, even if the mechanics differ. (On this count, we're in the area of philosophy, but here I'm asking about allusions re: a fundamental science acronym.) – DukeZhou Jan 8 '19 at 18:50
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    BIOS could be apronym, this is not unusual as it helps with memorizing certain terms. – rs.29 Jan 8 '19 at 18:56
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    What about the BIOS (particularly in its original meaning) is more analagous to a biological system than any other computer program? According to Wikipedia, CP/M, which originated the term, had three main components named BIOS, BDOS, and CCP; other systems would call the I/O abstraction a "HAL" ("Hardware Abstraction Layer"). Only later did "BIOS" come to refer to the wider functionality of motherboard-hosted firmware. – IMSoP Jan 8 '19 at 18:57

I think it's very unlikely that there was an explicit connection intended, beyond making the acronym pronounceable.

Wikipedia includes various accounts of the origin of the term, which all agree that the original requirement was for an abstraction layer to handle input and output (frequently abbreviated as I/O) in order to release CP/M on a variety of hardware platforms. This concept is more generally known as a Hardware Abstraction Layer, or HAL, but since the discussions were all about I/O, the name "Basic I/O System" seems to have just been the obvious choice. The fact that other components of the system have acronyms which don't remotely resemble Greek words suggests that there was no culture of clever references in the CP/M team at the time.

Only later did the term come to refer to the more complex firmware that controls a PC's boot system, which I suspect is what you are thinking of as "analagous to a biological system" (although I still don't see the connection myself). At this point, it was just an earlier term being borrowed and applied to a new technology with some of the same purpose.

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  • Thanks for the answer. I may not agree, but I appreciate you contributing! (My sense is that there would have been an awareness of the Greek meaning, and, while it's entirely possible this was just a coincidence, but even so, I'm confident there would have been awareness of the allusion and implication that might be drawn. Specifically, another acronym could have been chose to avoid this allusion.) – DukeZhou Jan 8 '19 at 19:22
  • @DukeZhou I totally understand the "awareness" part, but I still have no idea what the allusion would be. If the letters spelled the Greek word for "coincidence" it would be no more or less relevant to the task. – IMSoP Jan 8 '19 at 19:24
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    My only comment would be that, after nearly half a century of usage, it does seem that BIOS is the only logical choice, but I'd caution you that idea may be a fallacy. The choice of those 4 letter is that order may even have been a factor in that acronym becoming the adopted, standard term. – DukeZhou Jan 8 '19 at 19:35
  • @DukeZhou In 15 years, Wikipedia has never been able to find proof of the connection between BIOS and the Greek word: en.wikipedia.org/w/… – called2voyage Jan 8 '19 at 19:46
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    @DukeZhou I've certainly argued the opposite in the past - e.g. "Simultaneous Peripheral Operation On Line" is such awkward wording that the acronym must surely be contrived; but "Basic Input/Output System" reads as a perfectly straightforward name, in line with other acronyms like "Basic Disk Operating System", so there seems no reason to invoke extra meaning, except as a cute coincidence after the fact. – IMSoP Jan 8 '19 at 20:09

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