Delete (v.) - Smudged Away

Delete (v.) - Smudged Away


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Definition

Delete

verb
To destroy information without harming the medium that contained it.

History & Etymology

What made me start looking into the word delete was that it only seems to be applied to computers and technology. I wondered why delete became ubiquitous for computing while erase was the word for pencil and paper. When I found out that the Proto-Indo-European root of the word (s)lie- meant “slime, slimy and sticky.”  This word became linere which meant to smear or wipe. The prefix de- was put in front of it meaning to “move away from,” and it became delinere which meant to “daub, or erase by smudging.”

This goes back to something I mentioned in my video on the word book. In ancient Greece and Rome one of the primary tools used by students and teachers was wax tablets. These tablets were used by etching letters into the wax with a wooden stylus. The primary benefit of these tablets was that the letters could be removed without destroying the writing surface. They would simply use the flat end of the stylus to smudge or smear the letters away and bring back a smooth surface. This was deleting in ancient Greece.

The word delete make much more sense in a technology where the magnetic medium that contains the data is not destroyed when when you remove the data.

Erase on the other hand comes from a word meaning to scrape, scratch, and shave. All of those would destroy the surface that contains the information to be removed.

Sources

https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=delete

https://www.etymonline.com/word/erase#etymonline_v_11559

http://0-www.oed.com.catalog.multcolib.org/view/Entry/49325?rskey=o9fyaE&result=2&isAdvanced=false#eid

https://youtu.be/bWqejnP3KKs

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