Word origin: Mouse

The thieving rodent that became an electronic device


The mouse, as we all know, is the vehicle of Ganesha in Indian mythology. Interestingly, the English word is derived from the Sanskrit word for mouse, mushaka. This Sanskrit word was is in turn derived from another word of the same lan- guage, mus, which means to steal. Since rodents steal food and grain from humans, they must have got the name. Old English too used mus, before the word became mouse in the 12thcentury.


The ancient Romans used mus for all rodents large and small. They differentiated between mice and rats with the usage of big and little. The mouse was called mus max- imus (big mouse) and the rat mus minimus(little mouse). Greek, Latin and Old Persian too use variations of mus.



In modern English, the word is often used for anything that resembles a mouse. In the 1800s,it was used in nautical jargon to refer to abulge of rope on a ship because it looked like a mouse. This bulge which prevented the ropes tied to mast from slipping away was also called the stay mouse. The word was later used to denote a black eye caused by a blow!


Mouse was used for a com- puter device in the 1960s. The first documented evidence for the use of mouse for the computer pointer is in Bill English’s 1965 publication, Computer Aided Display Control. Two years earlier, English had assisted Douglas Engelbart in inventing the device.


Since the invention resem- bled the mouse, they gave it the name. The earliest mouse was a block of wood with two wheels, three buttons on top and a wire which resembled the tail of a mouse. During a demo, Engelbart once said, “I don’t know why we call it a mouse. It started that way, and we never did change it.” He even called the cursor a bug, but this word didn’t become popular.


Engelbart has invented the mouse to help navigate through the oNLine System (NLS) a pre- cursor of the Internet. But his patent for the mouse expired before the device gained popularity in the 1980s. Engelbart didn’t get widespread recognition or royalties for his invention.


Engelbart’s assistant Bill English joined Xerox Corp and helped build the mouse there. Xerox became the first company to sell a computer with a mouse in 1981. The term mouse for the device became part of the English language only in 1984, when Apple made it standard equip- ment with its original Macintosh. With the introduction of Microsoft Windows and the advent of the Internet, the word entered common parlance.


Mouse has now become an integral part not only of English but all languages. Many of us may not be able to distinguish between a rat and a mouse, but we surely know the difference between a keyboard and a mouse.


You can also read the article at http://talkmag.in/cms/columns/keywords/item/185-mouse


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