# algorithm

## noun

al·​go·​rithm
: a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation
broadly : a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end
There are several search engines, with Google, Yahoo and Bing being the biggest players. Each search engine has its own proprietary computation (called an "algorithm") that ranks websites for each keyword or combination of keywords. Julie Brinton
… sometimes you solve a problem by coming up with an algorithm of some kind. But sometimes you solve a problem in a very ad hoc sort of way. William H. Huggins

## Did you know?

What Does algorithm Mean?

The current term of choice for a problem-solving procedure, algorithm, is commonly used nowadays for the set of rules a machine (and especially a computer) follows to achieve a particular goal. It does not always apply to computer-mediated activity, however. The term may as accurately be used of the steps followed in making a pizza or solving a Rubik’s Cube as for computer-powered data analysis.

Algorithm is often paired with words specifying the activity for which a set of rules have been designed. A search algorithm, for example, is a procedure that determines what kind of information is retrieved from a large mass of data. An encryption algorithm is a set of rules by which information or messages are encoded so that unauthorized persons cannot read them.

Though first attested in the early 20th century (and, until recently, used strictly as a term of mathematics and computing), algorithm has a surprisingly deep history. It was formed from algorism “the system of Arabic numerals,” a word that goes back to Middle English and ultimately stems from the name of a 9th-century Persian mathematician, abu-Jaʽfar Mohammed ibn-Mūsa al-Khuwārizmi, who did important work in the fields of algebra and numeric systems.

## Examples of algorithm in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web It’s equipped with sensors, including Lidar, a microphone, radar, video camera capabilities, a speaker system and advanced algorithms. Kristin J. Bender, The Mercury News, 6 Aug. 2024 They will be guided by algorithms, which can process visual data and make split-second decisions. Mark A. Milley, Foreign Affairs, 5 Aug. 2024 The unions had to be factored into the candidate-selection algorithm. Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune, 4 Aug. 2024 RealPage’s algorithm, the attorney general’s office alleged in a statement announcing the suit, helped artificially inflate prices, costing renters millions of dollars. Salvador Hernandez, Los Angeles Times, 1 Aug. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'algorithm.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

## Word History

Etymology

alteration of Middle English algorisme, from Old French & Medieval Latin; Old French, from Medieval Latin algorismus, from Arabic al-khuwārizmi, from al-Khwārizmī flourished a.d. 825 Islamic mathematician

First Known Use

1926, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of algorithm was in 1926

algorithm

## Cite this Entry

“Algorithm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/algorithm. Accessed 14 Aug. 2024.

## Kids Definition

algorithm

noun
al·​go·​rithm
: a step-by-step method for solving a problem (as finding the greatest common divisor) or accomplishing a goal

## More from Merriam-Webster on algorithm

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