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The earliest mention of the term "rewrite rule" that I am able to find - in the context of phrase structure grammars - is in Chomsky's "Syntactic Structures" (1957).

Did he originate the term?

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    I think Zellig Harris was the one who first employed the term in linguistics (Chomsky studied under Harris). Harris seems to have gotten the idea (and perhaps the term) from various logicians (incl Emil Post) who may have been using it as early as 1914. – Gaston Ümlaut Dec 15 '15 at 21:18
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    Pretty sure Post is the first to formalize these and use the term "string rewriting system" (or something close to it). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_canonical_system – Fred Dec 15 '15 at 22:20
  • @Fred Yes, either Post or Axel Thue. – Gaston Ümlaut Dec 16 '15 at 5:04
  • I looked for an answer but couldn't find one. The question, I take it, is about the specific term, not the idea or the system that uses rewrite rules. – Greg Lee Dec 17 '15 at 1:13
  • Post did not use the term "rule" in his publications. Thue (who was the one who wrote in 1914) didn't use English; Harris did not use the term in the publications which preceded Syntactic Structures that I looked at (not a complete search); Chomsky did not use it in his dissertation (did not check LSLT since I don't have a PDF of that). – user6726 Dec 17 '15 at 1:48

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