As time and technology march on, society has a tendency to move on with it. Terms such as ‘light switch’, ‘operator’ and ‘type’, at least with regards to writing, did not exist previous to the invention of the light bulb, telephone or typewriter. Terms that have recently entered the common lexicon, at least among many of the younger generation, are ‘Tweet’ which used to be a sound a bird made, ‘Skype’ and ‘Google’, which have become verbs apparently. Officially in the case of the word ‘Google’, which is now listed as a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary (Merriam and his little chum Webster can go hang frankly).

I specify younger people because those over 35 tend to smirk slightly at the word ‘Tweet’, qualify the term ‘Skype’ with the descriptor ‘call’, it really is just a fancy phone call after all and rather than using ‘Google’ as a verb, those of us who remember a time after computers but before the Internet, will more likely say “I’ll look it up on Google” or at least “I’ll look on Google”. In addition to new words being added and old words taking on whole new meanings – last I checked a ‘troll’ was an unpleasant, mythical creature native to Scandinavia – as a technology develops, new words can come to entirely replace old ones. Such has been the case with writing machines.

My kind of type

The humble typewriter, like many a technology, had a bit of a slow start. First appearing in the 1860s, the writing machines were viewed with some amusement. Among the first to use one was none other than Mark Twain, who got his in a trade for five dollars and a saddle. A classic case of technology out-pacing application, the modern typing method would not be developed for several decades so Twain, and everyone else who took a chance on it at the time, had to use the hunt-and-peck method familiar to new typists of all ages.

Being non-electric, the first typewriter‘s workings were literally mechanical, including the keys which had to be struck with a good deal of force to engage them, not unlike cranking a lever or pulling a rope. “Striking” was the exact term that was used at the time, such as in this passage from the 51st edition of “Pitman’s Journal of Commercial Education” published in 1896: “It will be apparent that if two keys are accidentally struck together no impression will be made, as only one type can enter the guide at a time, and the act of striking two keys locks each, neither leaving an impression on the paper.”


Rise of the machines: From the first typewriter to digital word processors

As the technology progressed, going from mechanical typewriters to electric typewriters in the 1970s and even into the digitized word-processors and early personal computers of the 1980s, the terminology remained the same. At least partly due to the fact that the new, plastic keyboards still had keys that were separate, spring loaded pieces that needed a good whack to register the command and the majority of the people using them being adults (the only ones who could afford them at the time), who were largely using them to replace electric typewriters and older-version, paper and ink, word-processors.

From a strike to a tap

It was not until the late 1990s with the wide introduction of commercial laptops such as the iBook that the modern, nearly flat, touch sensitive keyboard came into popular use, though the terminology of “hit” and “strike” largely remained, as in this article from January of 1999 (fourth line from the bottom). Slowly, however, over the years from the first generation Apple iBook through to the introduction and eventual dominance of smartphones in the early-21st century, the language changed and the “strikes” and “hits” became “taps” and “clicks”. There is actually a website dedicated to smartphones called Much gentler terms for much more responsive but also much less palpable use. Trying to get into a rhythm or even, when necessary, rage type these days is like trying to tell someone off in an Australian accent. It just doesn’t really work.



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Trevor McNeil spent much of his childhood playing video-games on early-form personal computers back when the disks were literally floppy. He attended the University of Victoria, completing a degree in Social Science with a concentration in Technology In Society, while also writing for the campus newspaper. He has written articles for such diverse publications as Humanity Death Watch, PopMatters and Perfect Sound Forever. He is a veteran of numerous “watershed moments” in the history of technological development and firmly believes that Han shot first.


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