"floppy disk"--message from N. Holmes

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Sat May 12 09:37:19 UTC 2001

   On Friday morning I forwarded four of the "floppy disk" messages to
Neville Holmes (whose  May 20001 _Computer_ article initiated this
thread) and mentioned that if he had any thoughts on the responses,
our discussion group would welcome them. I've reproduced his reply
just below.  Also, I'll forward him the replies that have appeared
since Friday, and meanwhile, on behalf of ADS-L I now express thanks
to him for participating in the discussion with us.

---Gerald Cohen

>From: Neville Holmes <nholmes at leven.comp.utas.edu.au>
>Subject: Re: Fwd: Re: "floppy disk"--why "floppy"?
>To: gcohen at umr.edu (Gerald Cohen)
>Date: Sat, 12 May 2001 14:25:45 +1000 (AEST)
>Reply-To: neville.holmes at utas.edu.au
>Thank you for forwarding those postings to me.  I have no experience
>of list servers, so I am taking the liberty of making a few comments
>on the messages to you, or at least through you.
>It seems a little bizarre to be party, however indirectly, to the doings
>of the American Dialect Society, as I have only lived in the USA for
>just over two years, and that in the '60s.  And it must be close on
>twenty years since I visited the place, though I am about to do so very
>briefly.  Indeed, my remembrance of my time in the States suggests to
>me that the Society should actually be the American Dialects Society,
>even if you don't give the continental meaning to "America".
>Firstly, let me clear up one misconception, a misconception which your
>own comments at the end of your original e-mail installed.  I did not
>say that the marketers coined the jargon "floppy".  What I said was
>that the marketers had rendered the word "flexible" meaningless within
>the computing industry at the time when diskettes were coming into
>popular use, and that this meant that "flexy" was not adopted as the
>jargon term.
>There seems a good deal of confusion nowadays between the words "floppy"
>and "flexible".  In the '70s, particularly to anyone with a technical
>background, the two words were quite distinct in their ordinary usage:
>"flexible" meant capable of bending without yielding, that is, bending
>without inherently changing its shape, while "floppy" meant prone to
>changing its shape.  This was the distinction I was trying to convey
>with my examples (with a touch of humour intended).  Clearly, this
>is not a distinction made by several of the writers of the e-mails,
>and the degrading of the distinction could well be the responsibility
>of the computing industry.
>Some comments on Frank Abate's comments.  The sleeves (which all seem
>to be some kind of relatively heavy-duty paper) provided with the 8"
>and 5+" diskettes were not functionally part of the diskette, and
>indeed users of the 5+" diskettes often discarded them altogether
>for convenience, though they did provide useful protection from
>damage when the diskette was not in use.  But the 8" and 5+" diskettes
>were also permanently enclosed in plastic jackets, and those jackets
>were not flimsy, as anyone who has tried to cut a notch in one could
>tell you.  The jackets were made of quite stiff plastic (I also
>distinguish between "stiff" and "rigid" in taking rigidity to be
>extreme stiffness; the jackets of the 3+" diskettes are rigid) and
>were lined with a foam to protect in some way I don't remember the
>surface of the diskette.
>I am somewhat bemused by Raymond's description of my account as
>"thin, unsupported, and very implausible tissue of conjectures",
>following as it does Raymond's own conjectures.  It reminds me a
>little of those irregular verbs, in this case "I know, you believe,
>he/she/it conjectures."  I don't want to get into an ad hominem
>alternation, but I would simply put on record that I was employed
>by IBM Australia in technical roles from 1959 till 1988, since when
>I have been teaching computing students.  Let the implausibility
>rest where it will.
>Landau's glossary is a little short on historically.  IBM's first
>hard disk drives, sold up till the mid '60s, were non-removable;
>indeed, they needed a crane to move them at all.  Then there was
>quite a succession of devices, starting with the 1311 in the early
>'60s, with removable disk packs, those without the read/write heads
>and their arms built into the removable pack.  The removable disk
>packs with the read/write assembly built in (but never the motors)
>so that the capsule was sealed, wasn't, as I remember it, very
>successful (inter alia, the packs were very heavy) and the idea
>didn't last for very long.  I'm not sure just when they were around,
>but some of history URLs would have such facts recorded.
>The Winchester was far from being IBM's first disk drive.  And I
>heard that story about the rifle, but I also heard lots of other
>stories, most frequently that it was after the popular song of the
>time, "Winchester Cathedral".
>Also, the spelling "disc" was long used in British English, and "disk"
>in US English, without much overlap.  "Discette" is indeed not a
>plausible spelling, which is why British English customarily changed
>the trailing "c" to a "k" in such circumstances, to harden its
>pronunciation.  Or added a "k", as in "picnicked".
>I am thoroughly confused by Gilbert's comments.  The main frame
>computers kept in special rooms only had the 8" diskette drives
>built into their maintenance consoles for loading new versions of
>their microprograms.  These drives were called "minnows" when they
>first came in, and they weren't for customer use.  The 8" diskettes
>came into customer use as data storage for electric typewriters, and
>later for use with various minicomputers which didn't need a special
>room as their power consumption was relatively low.  Indeed, when
>IBM's third generation of personal computer came out two decades ago,
>NEC's clones used 8" diskette drives, even though IBM's didn't.
>However, some of IBM's mid-'70s personal computers, I think the
>5110 at least, could have 8" diskette drives.  The very clever 3M
>tape cartridge and its drive was developed for the earlier 5100,
>and later found wide usage as a streaming tape.
>One small point from my recollections.  While I worked for IBM, only
>the disk drive introduced with the PC-XT was ever referred to as
>a hard drive within IBM.  The first disk drives were familiarly
>called RAMACs, from Random Access Method of Accounting and Control,
>but that was later dropped.  The story around the traps at the time
>was that someone had pointed out that random behaviour was the last
>thing a customer would want out of a computing machinery.  From that
>time, Direct Access was the anointed phrase, as in DAM (Direct
>Access Method) in programming, and DASD (pronounced "dazzdee", and
>standing for DA Storage Device) for the drives.
>Gerald, I hope you find some interest in all this, but I did get a
>bit carried away.  I would be interested to have forwarded any
>interesting further postings, but I fear I will be too hard-pressed
>to compose as long a reply as this for a few weeks.
>Thanks again,
>Neville Holmes                 E-mail: Neville.Holmes at utas.edu.au
>School of Computing            Phone : +61 363 243 393 or (03) 63 243 393
>University of Tasmania         Fax   : +61 363 243 368 or (03) 63 243 368
>Locked Bag 1-359  Launceston 7250 ---------------------------------------

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