Why is assembly language called "assembly"?

I was just watching the 1st video in the "Crockford on JavaScript" series.

In it, Douglas says,

". . . the first program to make programming easier was the assembler, and using something called assembly language. We don't know why its called assembly language. . . ".


  • 4
    This naming has most probably a clear origin in history, whoever voted to close this as "opinion based" is completely off-track.
    – Doc Brown
    Feb 13, 2020 at 6:34
  • Doc Brown, to be fair, my 1st edit of this post was virtually a complete "re-do" as I removed my postulating content from the "question" and added it below as possible answer.
    – katzbatz
    Feb 13, 2020 at 17:19

1 Answer 1


The Name Derives from the Program/Process Created to Read it

The most interesting answer I found on the subject suggest that the name of the language came as a result of the name of the program written to translate it to machine code.

Quora.com user David Gish, who stated:

"In the very early days of computing, programmers wrote code in binary machine instructions and entered it into the computer through a bank of toggle switches.

This was tedious, to say the least.

They could ease the pain somewhat by coding in octal (base 8) — translating between binary and octal is quite trivial — but the code still had to be entered in binary through the switch bank.

Editing the code was a nightmare.

Inserting an instruction meant changing the memory addresses of everything that followed it.

It was much easier to write and read the code in a symbolic form while working on it. Instead of laboring with memory addresses, symbols and labels were used and the step of translating it to binary machine code was deferred until the program was finished.

At this point the programmer would convert each symbolic instruction to its binary equivalent, which became known as “assembling” the program.

It wasn’t long before someone wrote a program to do the job, and naturally named it the “assembler.”

In a backward way, the symbolic instructions became known as . . . “assembly” code."

Maybe it should be written as "assemblee"

So, being the Etymologist that I am, it got me thinking about the idea that maybe the original term would have been more appropriately written as "assemblee" and defined as "that which is assembled".

This falls in line with terms very often used in the financial world:

"Payor" and "Payee" "Mortgagor" and "Mortgagee"

"Assembler" and "Assemblee"

  • Actually in the financial world, they tend to use terms like "lender" and "borrower", "remitter" and "beneficiary", possibly with cheques it is "drawer" and "payee". This is to avoid the subtleties of words that differ only by the "er" and "ee" endings.
    – Steve
    Feb 13, 2020 at 7:33
  • 1
    While Quora cannot really be seen as a reliable source, Wikipedia confirms this origin in the second paragraph of this section with some further verifiable references. Note: I didn't verify them, but this SE fellow did and has some quote that confirms your statement. Maybe you'd edit your answer and add there elements (not everybody reads the comments).
    – Christophe
    Feb 13, 2020 at 8:05

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