Language in the making: the Hebrew Typewriter

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.

Remongton 92 Hebrew Typewriter

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…

5 Responses to “Language in the making: the Hebrew Typewriter”


  1. 1 Yuval Rabinovich

    For years I have been trying to figure out the exact history of the hebrew keyboard layout. The history of the English layout is documented thoroughly, but how was the hebrew key sequence developed?

    The current layout probably appered first in the 1920s in the US. Therefore, it was
    definitely designed for Yiddish and not for Hebrew. Actually, I find the layout inconvenient for typing in Hebrew. (Not surprising, as the regular QWERTY layout is not the most convenient layout for English)

    Any knowledge of that? Did you take a picture of the keys layout, or just a front view?

  2. 2 Nathan Zeldes

    Yuval, I have no more information. However, the photo at http://site.xavier.edu/POLT/TYPEWRITERS/remington92.jpg does have the keycap inscriptions visible; and you could write to the museum for more information (Tom Russo, who built it, is a great expert on office machine history).

  3. 3 Robert B Washington

    I own a typewriter similar to the one just above. I was given this typewriter from my Grandfather. If anyone is interested please email me. monarale@yahoo.com I will be able to send pictures.

  4. 4 Peter Nieber

    Hello, I found your site as I was looking for some information about a typewriter, that I own. It is a “Duktav”, writing in both directions with tree layers of letters. English letters as regular an a third layer for hebrew letters. To shift to the hebrew letters you can lift the carrier to an extra high position with an external lever and turn the pulling rope to the opposite side, so it pulls the carrier from left to right, allowing writing from right to left.
    Doe you have any information about this Typewriter? I can´t find anything in the net. Thank you so much and todah rabah. Peter Nieber

  5. 5 Nathan Zeldes

    @Peter, the typewriter you describe sounds like one that my wife rented briefly around 1975 to type a bilingual piece of work she did as a student. I had no information whatsoever about it, but I remember that weird mechanism with the cord to change the carriage advance direction.

    Anyway, I googled it in Hebrew (????? ????? ??-???????) and found this:
    http://www.nostal.co.il/Site.asp?table=Terms&option=single&serial=15037&subject=%E4%F8%E0%F9%E5%F0%E9%ED

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