"floppy disk"--why "floppy"?

Charles Wells charles at FREUDE.COM
Thu May 10 14:45:02 UTC 2001

In the 1990's, many students at Oberlin College (in the town where I live)
referred to a 2 1/2' floppy disk encased in a hard cover as a "hard disk".  I
talked to some of them about this usage (I hope in a non-put-downy way) and
discovered that many of them were unaware of the existence of the hard disks
inside pc's.  (They did not know how computers stored data.) I have not heard
this recently, but then floppies seem to be passing out of use because so many
people have cd burners.

I didn't hear this usage at Case Western Reserve University, where I taught,
but then I taught mostly c.s. students.

--Charles Wells

>    The following passage may be of interest--excerpted from "The
>Great Term Robbery," by Neville Holmes, _Computer_, May 2001, p.96,
>continued on pp.94-95 (sic: page order); p.96:
>     'The computing industry has also suffered from marketing
>hyperbole--christening data diskettes "floppy disks" provides but one
>example.  Clothes flop,dough flops, dot-coms flop, but diskettes
>don't.  Even the earliest versions, which lacked rigid covers, merely
>flexed. So why call them floppies?
>     'To better distribute microprogram code, IBM developed the
>diskette drive in the late 1960s.  In the 1970s, when this storage
>medium became widely used, marketers must have found the sober name
>"diskette" too bland, and so coined "floppy" to jazz it up.
>        'Why not "flexy"? Well, by the 1970s marketers within the
>computer industry had drained all meaning from the word "flexible" by
>dubbing *everything* flexible:  programs, computers, controllers,
>tape drives, card readers, printers, application programs, suppliers,
>even customers.  Marketers routinely suffer from such naming
>exuberance.  In the 1980s "user friendly" dominated; in the 1990s
>"intelligent" took pride of place; and in the 200s, "e-" appears to
>lead the pack.'
>    So when the contributions of marketers to the English lexicon are
>compiled, "floppy disk" should evidently be included.
>    And just for reference, the end of the article identifies the
>author: "Neville Holmes is an honorary research associate and a
>lecturer under contract at the University of Tasmania's School of
>---Gerald Cohen

Charles Wells,
Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Case Western Reserve University
Affiliate Scholar, Oberlin College
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