The earliest known use of the term software to describe computer programs dates back to 1958, says librarian Fred R. Shapiro of the Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn. He searched for the word among scholarly journals electronically archived in the JSTOR (Journal STORage) database (http://www.jstor.org/) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Shapiro hit pay dirt in an article by Princeton University statistics professor John W. Tukey in the January 1958 American Mathematical Monthly. Known for his keen interest in coining apt words and phrases, ukey had already received credit for inventing the word bit (binary digit) in 1946.
“JSTOR is a gold mine for studying the terminology of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences,” Shapiro notes in the April-June IEEE Annals Of The History Of Computing. With the rapid growth of electronic journal archives, an even earlier occurrence of the word software may yet surface.