Recently I accompanied my parents on a trip to a Financial Planner. They seem to find this sort of outing entertaining or perhaps enlightening. I find it painful. I can think of a whole list of better ways to spend my time, but there I was. The enforcer or protector or whatever my role was supposed to be. I perform this role when asked. The problem, though, is that somehow I always get dragged into the game. So, as I was sitting there reading the pamphlet and listening to the pitch, I was sucked in. The Planner, innocently enough, asked what I do for a living or something to that effect. This is a simple question with a complex answer. I punted. I said I make hardware. I figure most people know what that is so it’s a safe answer. Nope. So I got to watch the look of admiration turn to disgust when I disabused Mr. Planner of the idea that I make computers and instead make door knobs and drapery rods. The session got weirder when he asked if I did beige. Beige what? Hardware of course. Are we still talking about computers? Nope. Believe it or not we were talking about cabinet hardware. Hmmmm…….okay most people address function or form before color but…….Mr. Planner only buys beige. . . . . . . . The whole episode was disturbing.
Anyway it got me thinking about the word hardware. So off I went to do some research. I decided to pull out my dictionary this time mostly because I couldn’t find much satisfactory information online. It was all that hard + ware stuff. Yeah, you think it’s the information age but some information is still in books. On page 523 of my Webster’s Dictionary there is a very nice drawing of a Harlequin and four definitions for hardware. The first is . . . fittings, cutlery, tools, utensils, or parts of machines made of metal. Nothing there about beige, but not exactly what I was thinking. The second wasn’t exactly what I thought either . . . major items of military or police equipment or their components. Okay so far nothing about door knobs or drapery rods. That sounded more like tanks and other scary stuff. On to the third definition from Webster’s which is the physical components of a vehicle or an apparatus such as a computer. Dang. Just plain disappointing. The fourth definition doesn’t even matter. It’s more of the same.
It’s too late for me. My world is crumbling.
A lesser person than me would probably either admit defeat at this point or proceed with a cover-up. I, however, am undaunted. I will ferret out the truth. Hardware is doorknobs and drapery rods.
Back to Oxford online where hardware is defined first as tool, machinery and other durable equipment. Here we go with the tanks again. Second as the physical components of a computer. Aaaaaaaaaaah. And third as tools, implements and other items used in home life and activities such as gardening. Whaaaa? I think that might be it though. Door knobs and drapery are used in home life and they are items. I’m pretty sure of that.
I feel better but I have a need to be first. A third place item just won’t do.
Ahhhh Google books. I was led to something called Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics by Rene Driven. Who else? And on page 13 Rene says “The compound sign hardware consists of two simple words, hard and ware, which are both arbitrary.” Tell me you don’t love that. It is so intensely academic. Sounds like it means something but doesn’t actually mean anything. To continue . . . “But the compound is no longer arbitrary because the combination of the two parts leads to a more or less transparent meaning.” Again, I say, huh? I’m thinking that the meaning is not so transparent. As a matter of the moment, I’d say it’s totally opaque. There’s more . . . “The original meaning of hardware is ‘equipment and tools for the home and garden’.” Ah hah! There it is. The ORIGINAL meaning was door knobs and drapery rods. I need look no further but there is more. . . . “This meaning was extended to refer to the machinery and equipment of a computer, and by analogy, the programs running on the computer were called software.” And there you have it. Did I mention this passage was about software? Eh.
Also, the very first definition at Dictionary.com is . . . metalware, as tools, locks, hinges, or cutlery. Last . . . computers.
Now I definitely need to get back to work . . .