Yesterday, Rush Hour Rant posted about widgets (www.rushhourrant.wordpress.com). It was a rather whimsical post about Ves learning that a widget was not a midget witch. I commented in kind. What I failed to talk about was the origin of the word. So, I bring that up now in response to today’s Zero to Hero challenge to post about the post I commented on yesterday.
I recall an old movie with James Garner where he helps to figure out what a company called Universal Widgets actually makes. The movie, “The Wheeler Dealers”, 1963, portrayed the widget as an abstract product– something that didn’t really exist, such as a gadget or whatchamacallit.
Following up on my memory of that movie, I checked the Oxford English Dictionary which defined a widget as an indefinite name for a gadget or mechanical contrivance. In economics, a widget is a name for an object which is an abstract unit or device. I remember economics professors would have the class, as an exercise set up a bogus manufacturing company, usually called ACME, using the widget as the even more bogus product. In accounting it is used as a hypothetical “any product.”The use of the word as described, goes back to at least 1931.
That brings us to Gadget
According to the online etymology dictionary, one of my favorite resources, the word gadjet is said to go back to the 1850’s as sailors’ slang for any small mechanical thing on a ship for which they have either forgotten the name or which never had a name. It is suggested that it might derive from the French gachette, a catch piece of a mechanism and goes back to the 15th century.
In programming terms a widget is a generic term for that part of GUI (graphical user interface) that allows the user to interface with the application and operating system. It may be a button, a dialog box or a pop up window. In today’s vernacular, widgets are pieces of code that open a doorway to a larger application such as the Android widgets on your phone. WordPress widgets add content and features to your sidebars. And that, patient readers, is the less than extraordinary origin of widget.
Disclaimer: There were no widgets or gadgets harmed during the writing of this post.