Gadges and Gadgets!

by Stan Kelly-Bootle

It's strange how often my essential tools of trade are readily dismissed as gadgets (mandatory usage being “mere gadgets”). The doohickeys that you cherish are, of course, totally pathetic in my eyes, revealing you as a “sharper image” slave to self-defeating, fashionable mechanisms. Price and pride of ownership (closely related, nay, tightly bound) have clearly blinded you to the rational basics that guide my purchases.

The origin of “gadget” is, as the more honest lexicographers say, orig. uncertain or etym. obscure. Some guess at the French gâchette, but this was originally the safety lock-catch on a door or pistol, a reference to security and hard to reconcile with our modern “mere” gadgetry. Later, gâchette moved to become the pistol's “trigger” (as in Elle a la gâchette facile, “She's trigger happy”) which is perhaps more cognate with current gadget usage (see Note). She clicks to conquer, opening car/garage/home doors and TV channels, and, replacing old-fashioned scholarship, clicks to access the webbed windows of opportunity. Losing your clicker (I risk a gender-switch) is gadget-impotence, akin to Milton's blindness. Fear not: there's a meta-gadget you can click that will locate (beep-beep) your misplaced clicker. Lord knows what deeper levels of technology exist for recovering lost meta-gadgets. And now that mice, keyboards, modems and monitors (more) are becoming footprint-loose, wireless “remotes”, there's a growing chance of mislocation.

My own amateur spin is that “gadget” has morphologically diminutive implications (easy for me to say) that have added to its derogatory usages. I would back-form the term “gadge” to describe my own solidly justified possessions, regardless of price, conversation-party-piece, physical size and weight.

We are, patient readers, converging to a topic relevant to Linux, the OS we all love. I refer to the test known as productivity, an apparently simple econometric criterion that should (fat chance) dictate all our choices. The TV gadget heyday ads of the 1950s and '60s showed a trim USA super-efficient Mum clicking breakfast for hubby and her 2.7 adorable kids, then clicking the washing up. The general mantra “labor saving” (since applied to all forms of automation) left open the questions, “Saved at what cost?” and “time saved to do what else?” There's the ancient Time & Motion quip: Expert: “If you follow our plan, you could paint twice as many fences.” Tom, the painter: “But there aren't twice as many fences to paint.”

The equation has been obscured by the more subjective notion of “personal productivity”, yet even at the corporative level, after endlessly refined techniques and “studies at well-known West Coast Universities”, it remains dubious whether we can ever well-order our choices of computer languages, operating systems, development methodologies or guiding columnists.

Except to assert that my gadges are the best.


Stan Kelly-Bootle ( has been computing on and off since his EDSAC I (Cambridge University, UK) days in the 1950s. He has commented on the unchanging DP scene in many columns (“More than the effin' Parthenon”--Meilir Page-Jones) and books, including The Computer Contradictionary (MIT Press) and UNIX Complete (Sybex). Stan writes monthly at and Visit his home page at
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