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Wednesday’s Word – skeuomorph

October 8, 2008

Today’s word: Skeuomorph skyoo’e-morf, n 

A retained but no longer functional stylistic feature. This term was originally used in architecture and archaeology to refer to a feature whose origin was functional, but whose only vestige was as a decorative ornament.

OK, I have to admit, I just like the word, so I figured I’d have to use it.  I looked it up around the net and it has modern applications outside of architecture and archaeology.  For instance, and this is the one I can relate to the most, the clicking sound made by digital cameras to replicate the shutter closing on a traditional film camera.  It’s not needed, but the manufacturers keep it for various reasons.  Now, my questions is this: I have a digital SLR.  Is that sound a skeuomorph or is it really a shutter closing?  You can’t turn off the sound, so I figure maybe it really is a shutter closing.  It’s loud though.  I tried to take a picture of Princess sleeping and almost woke her up. lol.

Other examples are pennies, which basically are only copper on the outside and there’s no reason for it except nostalgia and it’s what people are used to.  I don’t know why we have pennies anyway.  We should just get rid of them.  It wouldn’t be a big deal.  When I was in college, I spent a semester studying in the Netherlands.  This was before the Euro, and they had gotten rid of their equivalent of the penny.  Stores just rounded up or down when you got to the register.  THink about it, you do this in your head when you buy stuff anyway.  WHen you see something that is $9.99, you think – oh, that’s $10, right?

In computer software, there are a lot of skeuomorphs, too.  Photoshop refers to many things used in traditional photography and art, such as a paintbrush, pencil, pen, dodging, burning, etc.  

And it’s all over the place in modern-day “Retro” products.  I had a phone that the numbers were in a circle like a rotary phone, but you didn’t actually spin them.  It was a touch-tone phone, it just looked like a rotary phone.  THe most interesting one I found is the little pocket on jeans.  Apparently, this used to be for pocketwatches.  Well, not many people use those anymore (Hubby has a couple because he can’t wear wrist watches because he’s allergic to the metal on the back of them, but he never uses them) but they still keep the little pockets.

So that’s my word of the week.  I challenge you to see how many other things in the world around you use a skeuomorph.  Here are a couple of links for further reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skeuomorph

http://phrontistery.info/favourite.html

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