A while back I was visiting the wonderful Museum of Business History and Technology in Wilmington, Delaware, which has countless typewriters, that incredible device that will soon be completely forgotten. Among these faithful servants of the authors of yesteryear I saw the device in this photo.
It’s an old Hebrew Remington 92 from around 1930, but what caught my eye was the Hebrew inscription on the frame, which translates literally into “Remington tool of writing type“. Now, the modern Hebrew name for typewriter means literally “writing machine”. And in fact, a little Googling will find you the same old model with this very phrase on it.
So what we’re seeing here is language in the making: the unit in the photo is so early that the term for it hasn’t jelled yet, and different batches were marketed with different names!
Speaking of which, I notice that the name for this machine, in every language I can make out, includes the root “write”, most commonly simply as “writing machine” (machine à écrire, macchina da scrivere, Schreibmaschine, máquina de escribir, etc). Nobody calls it a “printing machine”, even though that’s the immediate action. The important thing is that it is used for writing, in the good old sense that one did with a quill, or a pen, or a pencil, or a piece of chalk. It’s simply an accessory to the creative mind, and all these names – including the discarded one on the Remington 92 above – reflect that fact. Somehow, our computers and keyboards and printers and word processors have lost that linguistic flavor…