[Fwd: [Fwd: "floppy disk"--why "floppy"?]]

Drew Danielson drew.danielson at CMU.EDU
Thu May 10 14:23:06 UTC 2001

>From the author of the Jargon File (and it's print version, _The New
Hacker's Dictionary_):

"Eric S. Raymond" wrote:
> Drew Danielson <drew.danielson at cmu.edu>:
> > The word "floppy", in reference to data storage media, has been called
> > into question on the American Dialect Society discussion list.
> > Would you be able to clue us in on a source of coinage or
> > other etymological data on this usage?
> I have no hard data or cite on the origin of the term.  However, I was
> already active in computing when these terms gained currency with the advent
> of 8-inch hard-sectored floppies, and can report my recollection and belief.
> 1. The term `floppy disk' was generally understood by early speakers to have
>    been coined by direct opposition to `hard disk'.  Lexicographers should
>    be aware of the term `stiffy' for an encased 3.5-inch disk.  It was taken
>    for granted by early speakers that the floppy/stiffy/hard contrast was
>    in origin a sexual analogy, with a hard disk obviously best able to get
>    the job done.  These beliefs were reflected in common jokes and metaphors.
> 2. While both terms (`diskette' and `floppy disk') have may coexisted
>    through the lifetime of the technology, the term `floppy disk' completely
>    dominated use until at least 1984 (the first year of the Macintosh, which
>    was the first mass-market computer to use stiffies).
> 3. I strongly believe Mr. Holmes has it reversed and that *diskette* that was
>    the marketing coinage.  Long observation of the linguistic inventions
>    of engineers and hackers has made me intimately familiar with the style
>    of those inventions.  Comparing the casual, funny, faintly vulgar
>    "floppy" with the cute and sanitized "diskette" leaves me in little doubt
>    that an engineer invented the former and a marketing person the latter.
> 4. I doubt whoever coined the term "floppy disk" considered "flexy disk"
>    for even a microsecond.  One of the generative rules of this kind of
>    coinage seems to be that while inventing new words like `flexy'
>    is fine, inventing them them merely as qualifiers to an existing word
>    isn't done -- it would be pointless.  If you're going to go to the
>    trouble of coining and promulgating a neologism like "flexy", you might
>    as well make it do the whole job of conveying meaning rather than lumbering
>    it down with "disk".  Engineers have strong feelings about efficiency,
>    including (I am very serious here) efficiency of expression!
> In summary, Mr. Holmes's account strikes me as a thin, unsupported, and
> very implausible tissue of conjectures which do not square at all with
> my recollection of usage or speaker beliefs during the formative period
> of the technology in 1975-1980.
> Parties to whom you forward this message should be aware that I am not
> a trained linguist with an academic union card.  The only credentials
> I can offer are that (a) I was *there*, an active member of the early
> speaker community for these terms, and (b) I am the editor of "The New
> Hacker's Dictionary", which has been considered authoritative by hackers
> and linguists alike since it was first published in 1991.
> --
>                 <a href="http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/">Eric S. Raymond</a>
> It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our
> liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of
> citizens and one of the noblest characteristics of the late
> Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had
> strengthened itself by exercise and entangled the question in
> precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they
> avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this
> lesson too much ... to forget it
>         -- James Madison.

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