The word software gets more interesting the more you think about it. There's clearly nothing soft about it, but that's because it was modeled off the pre-existing word hardware when developers in the early 1960s needed a word for the programs and operating systems they would install on their computers. Hardware as a word dates all the way back to 1789, but it didn't refer to computer bits until 1947. Before that, it only referred to practical odds and ends- the stuff you would find in a hardware store. Ware in these cases is a relatively less-used term for "manufactured good" and the same element as in warehouses and plain old wares. It comes from Old English waru, which meant something like that as well but originally carried the definition of "protection", because the manufactured goods were protected in the custody of the producer. Before that, as Proto-Germanic waraz, it was "cautious", and as Proto-Indo-European wer, it meant "to watch out for", similarly. Hard- never changed definition as it came from Old English heard, Proto-Germanic hardu, and PIE kar. Soft- in Middle and Old English was softe. In Proto-Germanic it was samftijaz, meaning "smooth", and in PIE it was sem, "whole".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.