I see configure everywhere from fields like computer science to marketing, but what exactly does it mean originally? In what day-to-day scenario would one say "configure"?

Dictionary.com says: to design or adapt to form a specific configuration or for some specific purpose

but what does that mean? "from a specific configuration"? configuration? This is such a recursive question.

  • I think the dictionary doesn't define the definitions recursively. The page dictionary.reference.com/browse/configure says, "Origin: back formation from configuration", and the page configuration doesn't use configure to define configuration. Nov 12, 2014 at 13:10
  • Configure is like arrange, but it implies a function to the final placement of parts. I.E. - I arrange my living room furniture because I want a new look. I configure my living room furniture to allow me to use the space as a miniature bowling alley.
    – Adam
    Nov 12, 2014 at 17:10

2 Answers 2


Before computers came along, the word "configure" was generally used to describe putting a machine together or adjusting a machine in one of multiple alternative possibilities.

For example, I dug up these references in older books:

"Configure and test compressor ... configure and test alternative low-emissions burner ..." Should We Have a New Engine 1975

"In deciding what to include in the payload of a missile we build and how to configure our missile sites, we have to estimate the likely military forces that will confront us year after year throughout the planning period." Arms and Influence, 1966

This example is at a higher level:

"At the battalion level the net control station radios of the battalion operations FDC are the most critical If radios are redistributed to configure for a split FDC operation the operations FDC should have the highest priority." Field Artillery Canon Battalion, 1979

I also found a government document about "configuring the first floor" of a building, something about setting up classrooms, but the reference was cut off.

Here it's used to describe an economic system:

"Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden have chosen to configure their public policies and their industrial structure to take maximum advantage of the more mature phases of development in products and processes." Technology and Global Industry, 1987

Apparently the word was also used to describe language:

"A natural language consists of an indefinitely large number of terms (or expressions), many of which do NOT configure with each other to form intelligible or significant sentences." Philosophy East & West, 1976

I found a bunch of references to configuring words and ideas.


Talking in physical act - It means you are having set of instruments,which one will use to create some machine or another tool. eg : to configure a Personal Computer.

Talking in Non physical act - one could design or follow series of well defined steps to accomplish some task.

eg: To configure some papercraft for use of small lid to paint or draw.you could outline some tree/animal and ask kid to paint it. This way you have configured a painting to be painted by a small kid.

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