This post was originally written on 24th March, 2010.

This morning, when reading Leonard Wolf’s The Essential Dracula, I learnt a bit more about the universal typing system (the subject of ‘typing’ is brought up as you may know, Mina Harker (née Murray) is an avid typist). According to Wolf, ‘It was not until well past 1890 that the so-called Universal system triumphed over its competitors.” Quoting Michael H. Alder, author of The Writing Machine (p. 205), he also tells us the origin of the QWERTY format:

(1) it was “developed empirically as a means of overcoming type bar clash in … early machines”; (2) that it came about because “of the manufacturer’s desires to make the salesman’s job easier for him: since he had to demonstrate the machine to skeptical clients, placing the letters of the word ‘typewriter’ on the same line made them easier for him to find, with corresponding increases in his typing speed … and volume of sales.” (Alder, qtd. in Wolf, 414)

I am not totally convinced by the second explanation, although of course the letters T Y P E W R I T E R do all appear on the first row of the keyboard. I guess these letters cannot be systematically arranged (say, adjacent to one another) otherwise the word would be too obvious to spot and the salesman would not so easily charm/fool his clients.
I wonder how many people use typewriters today? I remember the authentic typewriters we used for typing lessons in my single sex secondary school. (Yes, I received proper training.)1 If I remember correctly, I think my family even owned a typewriter. I need to ask my mom about this.

1 By the way, I also learnt making a kind of orange (or lemon) drink by boiling orange (or lemon) peel. That was our very first cookery lesson so please don’t judge.

10 Responses “‘Typewriter’” →

Ankur [Link]
March 24, 2010

I miss the clack of typewriters, and moving them from right to left. My little finger used to get sore when I started on them, as I started on a Facet one which had really hard keys.
I had a segment in my industrial relations on typewriters where they said that other layouts would have been more efficient than the QWERTY one in use, but I could never agree: I love almost all the combinations, most of all zxcv. It’s a pity I don’t own one, and having said that probably wouldn’t now in this age, since I wouldn’t like to buy something for the sake of being a curio.
And I also had typing lessons when in secondary school.
March 24, 2010
Why do you like ‘zxcv’ so much, Ankur?
Ah, so you also had typing lessons. I wonder if it’s an Asian thing?
Sometimes I think it is quite entertaining to watch people who haven’t learnt typing stabbing the keyboard using only a few fingers, regardless of how speedily they type. (How mean I sound!)
March 24, 2010
The story I heard about the layout of letters on typewriter May be apocryphal
They wanted to prevent key collisions between the different letter keys
So the positions were set up to keep the chances lower of different letters
colliding when typing fast.
I never quite believed this, but heard it more than once in typing classes
in High School
March 24, 2010
I don’t think I can myself know; probably zxcv defied any meaning, any easy one at least, for me. It feels sublime to me and is not to be clay-molded. It is also the most unpronounceable, isn’t it?
March 25, 2010
You should write an ode to ‘zxcv’, Ankur!
March 26, 2010
Did u go to a single-sex secondary school? i thought u went to a co-ed! @_@
March 26, 2010
It’s a single-sex school (F.1-F.5) BUT there were boys in F.6-F.7.
March 27, 2010
We don’t have QWERTY in France. We have AZERTY. Which I prefer, personally (but it’s probably just because I’m used to it).
March 27, 2010
I actually didn’t know of the existence of that “zxcv” layout Ankur mentioned. But the idea of a completely irrational and unpronounceable one is, indeed, quite appealing, in an odd and poetic sort of way.
March 28, 2010
indeed, your entry about typewriter makes me nostalgic about the way we used to write!

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