ThanksForTyping.

Your enraging tidbit for the day, courtesy of Tristan Bridges:

Knowledge production is a collective endeavor. Individuals get named as authors of studies and on the covers of books and journal articles. But little knowledge is produced in such a vacuum that it can actually be attributed to only those whose names are associated with the final product. Bruce Holsinger, a literary scholar at the University of Virginia, came up with an interesting way of calling attention to some of women’s invisible labor in this process–typing their husbands’ manuscripts.

Holsinger noted a collection of notes written by husbands to their wives thanking them for typing the entirety of their manuscripts (dissertations, books, articles, etc.), but not actually explicitly naming them in the acknowledgement. It started with five tweets and a hashtag: #ThanksForTyping.

The most mind-boggling one: “my wife typed my manuscript drafts as soon as I gave them to her, even though she was caring for our first child, born in June 1946, and was also teaching part time in the chemistry department.” There are many more examples at the first link, as well as an interesting Google Ngram; I got there via MetaFilter, where appropriate indignation is expressed (and further tales of women’s contributions being given a dismissive head-pat are provided).

Comments

  1. Suzanne Bresseau, the wife of the famous blind Egyptian writer Taha Husayn, comes to mind!

  2. Lindig Harris [MovableBookLady] says:

    I once typed a very close friend’s PhD dissertation for him. It was on mortality statistics, with charts and graphs. Acknowledgment? No.

  3. SFReader says:

    English at the time had a taboo against explicitly mentioning married woman’s name.

    They were supposed to be referred to as Mrs. John Smith, not Mrs. Catherine Smith.

  4. David Marjanović says:

    but not actually explicitly naming them in the acknowledgement.

    Huh. I’ve noticed several works in my field from the 1950s to 70s or so where male authors explicitly thanked named women for typing everything in the acknowledgments section.

  5. English at the time had a taboo against explicitly mentioning married woman’s name.

    It’s not a taboo but the standard formal mode of address: Mrs John Smith or Catherine, Mrs Smith, not Mrs Catherine Smith. It’s still in common usage though doubtless now considered by many to be old-fashioned.

  6. I’m imagining poor Sophia Tolstaya as the patron saint of such unacknowledged helpmates.

  7. J.W. Brewer says:

    I have the impressionistic sense that in the context of Oscars-like awards shows it is fairly common for winners to express thanks/gratitude to spouses without naming them, e.g. after thanking by name a longish list of managers/agents/producers to wind it up by saying “And most of all I’d like to thank my [husband/wife]. I couldn’t have done it without you, darling!” Other times the spouse’s name is explicitly stated in the same sort of context. I don’t think audiences react negatively to the first variant where the spouse’s name is not explicitly uttered as somehow disrespectful to the spouse in question, or leaving the spouse “unacknowledged” or “anonymous.” Similarly, sometimes the acknowledgements in academic books (probably especially first books?) have a shout-out to the author’s parents, for support and encouragement over the years blah blah blah, and it seems reasonably common to leave names out, e.g. “I also owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my parents, who always believed in my dreams blah blah blah” versus “I also owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my parents, Maurice and Hortense Snodgrass, who always believed blah blah blah.” I don’t think the omission of parental names in that sort of context strikes most readers as disrespectful or problematic.

    This leads me to surmise that what bothers people about the examples under discussion here is not what they claim is bothering them.

  8. @JWB: I don’t think your examples are quite equivalent, though. The wives in OP actually worked on the projects in question, which is different from the sort of encouragement and moral support for which actors usually thank their spouses and parents.

  9. Huh. I’ve noticed several works in my field from the 1950s to 70s or so where male authors explicitly thanked named women for typing everything in the acknowledgments section.

    Nobody’s saying women are never thanked by name; what’s depressing is when they aren’t. When someone complains that it’s raining, do you say in a chipper fashion “But it’s often sunny”?

    This leads me to surmise that what bothers people about the examples under discussion here is not what they claim is bothering them.

    Since as Lazar points out your examples are entirely irrelevant, I surmise that you find the entire concept of being bothered by sexism silly.

  10. J.W. Brewer says:

    Is it too cynical to think the smart thing for these guys to have done in hindsight would have been to have passed over the issue in silence and just not acknowledged the fact that someone other than themselves (and someone of a different sex than themselves) had done the typing, which seems to be an unwelcome reminder of a bygone sex-based division of labor (and prestige)?

    As it happens, my paternal grandfather had finished his doctoral dissertation (in chemistry, late 1920’s) before marrying my grandmother, so he had to type it himself. I learned to my surprise as of a few years ago that my dad had possession of the physical machine on which that dissertation had been produced (a Corona, manufactured just prior to the merger w/ Smith, fitted out with some extra keys to handle scientific/mathematical symbols not in the usual/default character set).

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    I frankly do not understand why my other examples lack relevance. My claim is that there are other situations in which speakers (both male and female) acknowledge family members (both male and female) by reference to the relationship status (my wife, my husband, my mom, my dad etc) without giving their individual names. I expect if you looked at old scholarly works where the female acknowledged to have done the typing was NOT a family member, you would almost invariably get a name, e.g. “my long-suffering secretary Miss Jones, who retyped the manuscript no less than six different times.” It would be quite weird to acknowledge “my secretary” w/o giving a name. That’s not because author/secretary relationships in those days were typically more egalitarian or less sexist than husband/wife relationships, but because (I claim) there were, and are, different conventions for referring to family members versus non-family members.

  12. Yes, and those conventions are and were wrong! Do you really not see the oddity in mentioning the name of every librarian who found a book for you at some point, every fellow (male) scholar who gave your precious book the once-over and didn’t say anything too discouraging, but not that of the person who did more work on the book than anyone but you yourself? Now, if every wife whose contributions were anonymously mentioned in that way were to say “No, actually, I am averse to publicity and prefer it this way,” I’m happy to acknowledge my error. I will gladly give you substantial odds if you want to take that bet.

  13. Also, that’s a very cool story about your grandfather’s typewriter.

  14. I think there are at least two differences: family members are generally unique (I think that an acknowledgement of the author’s sister would require either “my sister Susan” or just “Susan Snodgrass” without acknowledging the relationship), and the question of moral vs. material support. I don’t think we can sort these out without actually doing a corpus study.

    If I were typing someone’s dissertation, I’d insert an acknowledgement to myself, and leave it to the author to strike it out — if he dares.

  15. SFReader says:

    In certain countries which shall not be named here, some husbands actually write dissertations for their wives.

    Naturally they go unnamed, since it’ll cause great scandal if it was revealed!

  16. Mentioning family members is a strange thing. I read, from time to time Prof. Gelman’s blog where he mentions from time to time “my sister” without ever elaborating who she is (admittedly she is not actively participating in the blog, AFAIK).

    A funny story, which I know of through third or fourth retelling. During doctoral defense of some astronomy aspirant it was mentioned that he discovered a new star. To which chair quipped that it’s not a big deal, his mother-in-law discovered a star. He forgot to mention that his mother-in-law was a world renowned astronomer. I am not sure whether the whole audience was supposed to know this fact.

    In certain countries which shall not be named here, some husbands actually write dissertations for their wives.

    If only it was confined to the husband-wife pairs!

  17. Write or type? There’s quite a difference!

  18. Long ago, “the Muse” got a lot of formal acknowledgement, but the reader was not told his or her first name. Midwives never got any credit. As for wives, I suspect that until fairly recently curtain lectures were sufficient in the way of reproof. Nowadays, though, nothing but a full public outcry will do.

  19. J.W. Brewer says:

    John Cowan is right that siblings are different from fathers/mothers/spouses because “my sister” does not presumptively specify a single individual – it is not uncommon to have two or more sisters. Perhaps male scholars in a patriarchal culture that is also polygamous would feel more of an obligation to specify by name which wife had typed the particular manuscript, in order to avoid ambiguity?

    I disagree with him that “my sister Susan Snodgrass” (maybe that could use a comma in the middle?) is unidiomatic, at least in the context of an adult speaking of an adult sister, since the fact that some women change surnames with a change of marital status means you can’t presume that the speaker’s adult sister necessarily has the same surname the speaker does — “my sister Susan” is more likely to be sufficient (so much so that further detail seems unnecessary and thus odd) in a childhood context where siblings all using the same surname is a more sensible default assumption.

    Somewhat humorously, a published scholarly book by my brother (as it happens, I have only one so the reference is not actually ambiguous) does *not* acknowledge me (although it does acknowledge our parents), but does mention in the introduction a reasonably well-known historian who by chance not only has the same surname as the Prof. Brewer who is writing the passage but the same first name as that Prof. Brewer’s brother (i.e. me). There’s no disambiguation or “(no relation)” qualifier — it’s just Robert Darnton has said such-and-such about available historical records “but John Brewer is quite right to note that such sources” have such-and-such limitations.

  20. Kieran Healy on Crooked Timber in 2007 asked

    what is the latest—i.e., most recent—example you know of an academic’s first book where, in the acknowledgments, the author thanks his wife (or some other person’s wife, as in “the redoubtable Mrs Elizabeth Arbuthnot”) for typing and retyping the manuscript with great patience, forbearance, accuracy, and so on?

    (Admittedly not an unnamed wife, but OTOH a first-book author excludes ageing relics.) The answer in 2007 was “in 2007”.

  21. “If I were typing someone’s dissertation, I’d insert an acknowledgement to myself, and leave it to the author to strike it out — if he dares.”

    A (slightly) subtler approach is probably more effective: as a translator of academic (history) books I’ve translated acknowledgements sections which fail to mention me anywhere at all and then sent an email to the author asking if there’s anyone else he/she would like to thank before sending the final version of the text. That’s the point at which most authors reflect and take it upon themselves to decide it would be good to include a short sentence expressing gratitude towards the one person who’s made him/herself more familiar with the text than anyone else on the planet, pointed out its factual errors, repetitions, redundancies etc etc.

  22. An excellent practice!

  23. J.W. Brewer says:

    OK, so out of idle curiosity I used the internet to find a university website that had for some reason posted a pdf of some of my grandfather’s professional work product. (This one, where he’s the 5th-listed of 7 co-authors, was published the year before he died, although the underlying work had been completed a few years before that.) The acknowledgements section ends with a shout-out to “Alma H. Heastand, clerk-stenographer, [who] assisted in preparing the manuscript.” All of the other personnel of the Central Experiment Station mentioned in the same list are given with just initials rather than spelled-out given names (e.g. “W. E. Erickson, scientific aide”) from which I infer that they were male.

    The internet doesn’t seem to know very much about Ms. Heastand, but one hit (a listing of decedents by social security number) suggests that she died in 1995 at the age of 85, so she would have been in her early forties when assisting with the preparation of that particular manuscript on the carbonizing properties of West Virginia coals.

    http://digicoll.manoa.hawaii.edu/techreports/PDF/USBM-522.pdf

  24. @John Cowan:

    I think there are at least two differences: family members are generally unique (I think that an acknowledgement of the author’s sister would require either “my sister Susan” or just “Susan Snodgrass” without acknowledging the relationship), and the question of moral vs. material support. I don’t think we can sort these out without actually doing a corpus study.

    The only such study I know of —Hyland, K. (2003). Dissertation acknowledgements: The anatomy of a Cinderella genre. Written Communication, 20(3), 242-268— mentions that three quarters of references to family members use full names, versus 90% for non-academic friends and 96% of academics. The illustrative excerpts include references to wives (‘my lovely spouse Melody Wong Wai Fong’) and parents (‘my parents, Mr. Lun Wai-Kan and Ms. Yeung Nga-Mong’), both cases in which the question of uniqueness is quite settled. Hyland suggests that this is ‘perhaps related to writers’ perceptions of the formality of the genre, a desire to make a formal and almost ritually ceremonial acknowledgement for services received’ (p. 263, emphasis in the original).

    Thing is, his dataset is limited to ‘20 M.A. and 20 Ph.D. dissertations from each of six academic fields written by nonnative English speaking students at five Hong Kong universities’, presumably around the turn of the millenium, but what we really need is a diachronic study. PQDT Global claims to have 1.7 million full-text works going as far back as 1743…

  25. J.W. Brewer says:

    From the thread mollymooly linked to:

    “Many thanks to my husband for typing the manuscript of this book…” (Publication date of the cited work is 2001.)

    Perhaps unusual but not unique: Googling reveals a dissertation (from India, date uncertain, but recent enough for LaTeX to have already been a thing for scientific writing) in which the female author thanks her husband (name not given in that sentence, but given in a previous mention) for doing the typing. The typing acknowledgement is in the penultimate paragraph – the final acknowledgee is Almighty God, who gets the last paragraph to Himself. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/71687/3/03_acknowledgement.pdf

    (Edited to add: the same acknowledgements section has a lovely little bit of Indian English: “Also, worth mentioning are the support of all other colleagues at St.John’s college, Anchal and the loving disposition of my friends and colleagues without which I would have run out of wits.”)

  26. I disagree with him that “my sister Susan Snodgrass” (maybe that could use a comma in the middle?) is unidiomatic

    I don’t think it unidiomatic, just a little less likely. Certainly “my sister Susan Elmsgrove” (where the author is Snodgrass) is fairly likely.

  27. I resisted to retell this anecdote one more time (I really did!), but here it goes. From J.E. Littlewood A Mathematician’s Miscellany:
    The following idea […] was invented too late (I do not remember by whom), but what should have happened is as follows. I wrote a paper for the Comptes Rendus which Prof. M. Riesz translated into French for me. At the end there were 3 footnotes. The first read (in French) ‘I am greatly indebted to Prof. Riesz for translating the present paper.’ The second read ‘I am indebted to Prof. Riesz for translating the preceding footnote.’ The third read ‘I am indebted to Prof. Riesz for translating the preceding footnote’, with a suggestion of reflexiveness. Actually I stop legitimately at number 3: however little French I know I am capable of copying a French sentence.

  28. I’d like to observe that this omission of typist-wives from acknowledgements at least takes its beginning in a time where typing was not seen as not a real job, but as something young women could do until they got married. Could typing skills have been seen as a low-status marker and not fitting for the wife of an academic?

    My mother (born 1935) has told me that her (upwardly mobile) parents didn’t want her to learn typewriting in school, she should concentrate on ‘book’ subjects so she wouldn’t just become a secretary. But in the end it meant she could type up her B.Sc. thesis herself and work as a research librarian, so my grandparents’ foresight wasn’t perfect.

  29. The notable thing to me here is that learning to type isn’t that hard. I taught myself to touch-type just by sitting at a typewriter and practicing. I needed no instruction and no manuals.

    The obvious conclusion is that a lot of men thought it was “women’s work” and beneath them. I suspect, however, there was more to it than that. Some men just used the look-and-peck method because they were intimidated by the machine and thought, because there were typing schools, touch-typing must be hard to learn. Nowadays every young person is familiar with the tactile requirements of video-game controllers, but then the hand-eye coordination involved in touch-typing seemed more of a challenge. Also, there wasn’t just a division between men’s and women’s work in the 50s and 60s, there was a division between men who worked with machines and men who worked with paper. Academics were by nature bookish people, and I think a lot of them were uncomfortable with, and to some extent afraid of, complex mechanical tasks.

  30. Could typing skills have been seen as a low-status marker and not fitting for the wife of an academic?

    But these men weren’t hiding the fact that their wife was doing the typing — they thanked them for it! Just not by name.

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    When I started high school, in 1980, there were two different introductory touch-typing classes. One was a semester long and aimed at the college-bound kids who wanted to be able to type their own college papers. The other lasted a full year and was aimed at those who wanted to get clerical jobs straight out of high school. Due to some scheduling conflict, the former was at a bad time for me, so I ended up as one of two male students (out of maybe 25 or 30 total enrollment) in the latter. I learned to type quite well and to the extent I was never taught e.g. how to do an MLA-stylebook bibliography it didn’t hurt me. I have a vague sense of seeing signs around town when I was in college for typing services, but never knew anyone who used them — I myself transitioned from typing my own papers to using clunky word-processing software on a terminal linked into university mainframe about halfway through my undergrad years, so circa 1985.

  32. Yeah, I’m very grateful I learned to touch-type — not particularly fast, mind you, but it’s a useful skill. I can look at people (well, mainly my wife) while they’re talking and keep right on typing!

  33. J.W. Brewer says:

    It just struck me that while by the earlyish 20th century typing had become a stereotypically female occupational niche, typesetting (an equally important part of the production chain for books and journal articles after the typewritten MS had been provisionally accepted by the publisher) was by contrast very much a male-dominated occupation until automation made it largely obsolete.

    Here’s a bit of 19th century polemic supposedly by Horace Greeley, telling male typesetters not to be so uptight about women seeking work in their trade:

    ‘Your fears that women will supplant you, or seriously reduce your wages, Messrs. Compositors, are neither wise nor manly. The girls who marry and have families to look after will stop setting type — never doubt that — unless they are so luckless as to get drunken, loafing, good-for-nothing husbands, who will do nothing to keep the pot boiling, and then they must work, and you ought not to be mean enough to stop them, or drive them back to making shirts or binding shoes at three or four shillings a day.

    If you find yourselves troubled with too strong a competition from female workers just prove yourselves worthy to be their husbands; marry them, provide good homes and earn the means of living comfortably, and we’ll warrant them never to annoy you thereafter by insisting on spending their days at the printing office setting type. But waxing theologic and pious, you tell us of the sphere of action God designed women to occupy —of her ‘purity’ and of the ‘immorality and vice’ she must inevitably sink into, should she be admitted into the composing room to set type beside you. We feel the force of these suggestions — we admit the badness of the company into which unregulated typesetting would sometimes throw her — but did it ever occur to you that this is her lookout rather than yours? It is perfectly fair of you to apprise her beforehand of the moral atmosphere to which promiscuous typesetting would expose her, but when you virtually say she shan’t set type because if she did your society and conversation would corrupt her you carry the joke a little too far.’

  34. David Marjanović says:

    Learning to type is easy. Learning to type without mistakes, so you don’t need five sheets of paper per page, takes a lot of practice!

    “my sister Susan Snodgrass” (maybe that could use a comma in the middle?)

    Optional if she’s the only sister, forbidden if she’s not. You can hear the difference in the intonation.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    promiscuous typesetting

    😀

  36. Greg Pandatshang says:

    the final acknowledgee is Almighty God, who gets the last paragraph to Himself.

    And, conspicuous by its absence, she fails to even mention the name of the Almighty!

  37. dainichi says:

    @David Marjanović: “forbidden if she’s not”

    I believe a comma is possible if the appositive is non-restrictive, which it would be if we already know what sister we’re talking about, even if that is not the only sister.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    True.

  39. Actually, the comma rule for restrictive vs. non-restrictive applies only to clauses. NPs in apposition can have commas or not. “Julius Caesar, the judge, sat in Parliament” is fine even though there are other Julius Caesars. Of course “Julius Caesar the judge” would be fine too.

  40. “Is it too cynical to think the smart thing for these guys to have done in hindsight would have been to have passed over the issue in silence”

    I would regret if they had done that, because in a small way it extinguishes a spark of past history. I think you might too?

    Sure, power’s exercise is often its own best defense. No cynicism in knowing that. The cynicism may come in depending on what connotations you attach to “smart”. Or if you were to intend an implication “so don’t threaten them, they’ll pull the trigger.”

  41. I wonder whether Lavoisier’s wife Marie-Anne Paulze L. was credited — I can’t see anything in these dreadful online versions of his publications. She not only edited his writings, she did precise illustration of the apparatus, and she translated chemical research from other languages for his use.

  42. January First-of-May says:

    I tried to look for Lavoisier’s publications (and coauthors) back when I tried to figure out Benjamin Franklin’s Erdős number (a few years ago), but I didn’t know about Marie-Anne Paulze back then. If I did, I definitely would have tried to check.
    Can’t recall having seen any references to her, however.

    (For details on what the Erdős number attempt in question looked like, check out this page – which incidentally has a lot of other cool stuff [it’s a discussion of Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath numbers] – and search for “Lavoisier” [about 70% down]. A better path is now on the Erdős Number Project site.)

  43. I typed my many dissertations with my own stubby fingers. Later I married. A few years after that I learned to touch type, which I now notice I could use a refresher on.

    Speaking, as I do, from personal experience I cannot especially recommend this said sequencing.

  44. Sometime in grade school, without meaning to, I developed a totally idiosyncratic touch typing method and have used it happily ever since. My left hand lies lower on the keyboard than the right and covers a few more keys (odd, because I’m right handed); it’s also dynamic, in that the finger that I use for certain keys is contingent on what precedes them. (Sadly, I think this feature would make it hard to codify and propagate.)

    The official touch typing method has always rubbed me the wrong way, though. To me it feels unnatural to place eight fingers all on the same row (they’re different lengths!), and several of the key assignments – especially Q with the pinky – seem weirdly strenuous. But I guess some people do well with it.

  45. But these men weren’t hiding the fact that their wife was doing the typing — they thanked them for it! Just not by name.

    Well, because they were unambiguously identified as “my wife” (or indeed “my husband” in one example in the CT thread).

    I think you need to ask whether the phenomenon is “male authors not acknowledging female assistance by name in the acknowledgements” or “authors not naming their family members in the acknowledgements”.

    Also, there’s an important difference between thanks going to fellow scholars and thanks going to family members. If I got some help from Professor Arky Malarkey, he will expect to be thanked by name, because he actually benefits from that – the return for him taking his precious time to help me is the little reputation boost he gets from me saying, in print, “Arky Malarkey, what a genius, definitely my go-to guy on obscure plant alkaloids”. But my wife who does the typing is (probably) not hoping that she will get lots more work typing other people’s manuscripts as a result of doing a good job with mine. My thanks aren’t aimed at the academic community. They’re aimed at her. And she knows who she is!

  46. David Marjanović says:

    “Julius Caesar, the judge, sat in Parliament” is fine

    Yes, because “the judge” is an insertion into the sentence. “Julius Caesar sat in Parliament. (Also, he was the judge.)”

    Q with the pinky

    I don’t even do that. I use the ring fingers for Q, P and everything above them, including backspace.

  47. The sentence “Julius Caesar sat in Parliament” would take a very special context to count as true, whereas “Julius Caesar, the judge, sat in Parliament” is true tout court with or without commas. (His Italian father anglicized his son’s name by latinizing it.)

    What we have here, I think, is a conflict between two rules: enclosing commas are used for parenthetical material, as in this sentence, but not for essential material, and enclosing commas can always be used around appositives. Indeed, the commas can’t be omitted if the appositive is heavy: “Julius Caesar the seventeenth-century judge knighted by King James was appointed Master of the Rolls in 1614” is well-nigh unreadable to me (though it may work, for all I know, in comma-light BrE) for want of commas after “Caesar” and “James”. (“When pursued by a host, he must stick a spear in the world and hide behind it and vanish in its narrow shelter or he is not taken for want of sorcery.”)

  48. I think you need to ask whether the phenomenon is “male authors not acknowledging female assistance by name in the acknowledgements” or “authors not naming their family members in the acknowledgements”.

    I think you need to consider that it does not make sense to regard this phenomenon in isolation from all the other ways in which female contributions have been suppressed, minimized, or ignored over the centuries. There have been cases in which women were in actual fact coauthors or even sole authors (their famous husbands having been occupied with important thinking and perhaps having affairs with grad students) but have, if they were lucky, simply been thanked (with or without name) in the acknowledgments; if they were unlucky, they were not mentioned at all.

    And she knows who she is!

    And that may be enough for her; I don’t know your wife. But consider that 1) you can’t generalize from your wife to wives in general, and 2) I’m quite sure there have been many men who had the comfortable feeling that such an acknowledgment was all their wives needed or wanted but were quite mistaken in that feeling.

  49. “I’m quite sure there have been many men who had the comfortable feeling that such an acknowledgment was all their wives needed or wanted but were quite mistaken in that feeling.”

    Oh, fine. I didn’t realise you were quite sure about it. Consider my comment withdrawn!

  50. Sorry, didn’t mean that to come off as so snarky! I didn’t mean to be implying anything about you, of course, just pointing out that lots of men historically have had such feelings.

  51. and several of the key assignments – especially Q with the pinky – seem weirdly strenuous.

    What letter would you assign to the pinkie in Q’s stead? That Q and Z are by a very long shot the least used letters in the English language adequately explains their positioning on the standard QWERTY keyboard.

  52. January First-of-May says:

    My own typing experience was basically one-fingered until 2008 or so, then I managed to start using two fingers, which sped up my typing significantly.

    I did try to learn ten-fingered touch-typing in 2007 (shortly before I switched from one finger to two), and stopped when I realized that I actually type faster with one finger (then, about 20 wpm) than with ten (about 10-15 wpm).
    Of course my modern two-finger speed is even higher (about 30-35 wpm, I believe).

    That said, what I do with two fingers (currently, right middle and left index; IIRC it used to be both index fingers at some point, not sure why it switched) might well be classified as touch typing (my memory of where the characters are is apparently so good that I hardly ever look at the keyboard unless I make a lot of typos in a row). It helps that I make liberal use of the backspace button, though (for fixing random typos); it will of course be impossible to actually typewrite that way.
    I do sometimes have problems typing correctly when it’s dark and I can barely see the keys, however.

  53. I actually had a typewriter with a erasing backspace key (in addition to the physical backspace key, which merely moves the typewriter backwards). You held the erase key down and pressed the key for the erroneous letter, and the typewriter backspaced, switched to a white ribbon, typed the key, switched back to a black ribbon, and then backspaced again. This left you in the correct place and ready to type the correct character or, if you had several wrong characters, to repeat the cycle. Coolest Thing Ever.

    I learned 9-finger touch typing (the left thumb does nothing) in 10th grade, when my otherwise wholly incompetent English teacher sent me to typing class so he’d never have to read my incomprehensible scrawl again. For several years from 12th grade onward, I did a lot of typing on a Teletype Model KSR33, which lacked a right-shift key; as a result, I now only use the left-shift key even on normal keyboards. This requires some reach to type “T” or “%” (shift-5 on a U.S. keyboard), but luckily my fingers are long and wide.

  54. @laowai: I use the left index for Q, with the pinky reserved for function keys. My method is largely a 6-finger one.

  55. Left ring for Q, I mean.

  56. @John Cowan: I remember seeing such erasing typewriters being advertised around 1990. I thought they looked like something that would have been really, really cool if they had been commonplace in earlier years, before the typewriter had come to the verge of complete obsolescence.

  57. I think I got my typewriter (replacing an old portable manual of my mother’s) in 1974 or so.

  58. The same technological advances that would kill the stand-alone typewriter actually caused a rapid evolution in their capabilities just before that, when the PC was still prohibitively expensive for many businesses. One place I frequented had a daisy-wheel ‘typewriter’ with a two-line input buffer on a plasma dot-matrix display so you could correct the text before it was actually typed out.

    (Such a thing would be easy to make today, you just put in 2GB of memory and a Linux OS. But back then it probably ran in something like 2K of hand-optimized 6502 assembler in ROM and 128 bytes of RAM (besides the line buffers which were scanned out to the display through a hardware character map, no CPU involved)).

  59. David Marjanović says:

    Left ring finger for tab; left pinky for caps lock; right pinky for enter. Left ring finger for Alt + right middle finger (wrist lifted off the laptop or keyboard handrest) for 0150 to produce a dash.

    I remember seeing such erasing typewriters being advertised around 1990.

    We briefly had one – an electric one.

  60. Rodger C says:

    @Lars: I actually owned one of those in the 90s.

  61. My father switched from a manual to a two-line electronic erasing typewriter in I guess the late 80s. He was a fierce if inelegant one-handed typist, having, as he did, only one hand.

  62. J.W. Brewer says:

    I acquired one of those electric typewriters with the put-it-into-reverse-and-erase (obviating the need to manually apply whiteout with a brush …) function just before going off to college, so probably sometime during the summer of 1983. My very vague recollection of my impression at the time was that it was a reasonably new technology but I was not getting one from the very first batch to have rolled off the production line. I still have it up in the attic and my kids have occasionally been fascinated by its archaic-to-them click-clack-clang-whirr style of technology, but the ribbon cartridge necessary for the whiteout-in-reverse feature is used up and I have not investigated whether there remains somewhere in the world a source of replacement cartridges compatible with the particular model.

  63. J.W. Brewer says:

    I suppose if you wanted to know the actual attitude of the actual wife-typists (both recollections of their attitude at the time and how that might have changed with the benefit of hindsight) you could go find some and interview them. Maybe the stray more recent examples alluded to above are outliers, but if you generated a list of fifty or sixty male academics who had made such acknowledgements in early-career books published between say 1950 and 1970, you ought to be able to track down at least a dozen or twenty of the ladies in question, now perhaps in their eighties and in some cases (actuarially speaking) widowed and thus perhaps able to speak more freely. (Or willing to speak more freely because they got divorced back circa 1978 after their husbands had had one too many affairs with students?) Perhaps they would even have anecdotes about other academic wives they had known back in the day who had strategically refused to acquire even minimal typing skills! (I guess ideally your sample would be half wives who were acknowledged by name as the typist and the other half wives who were acknowledged as “my [adjective] wife” without further specification, to see if reactions differed between those sub-populations.)

  64. Yeah, that would be a fascinating study; I hope someone does it! (Surely there’s a journal article in it…)

  65. If so, hopefully to be typed by the author.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    Many scholars thank their wives not only for typing their dissertations but also for talking an editorial role, as “my severest critic”.

    Here is another side of the coin: Years ago when starting an academic position I heard a lot about the sociology department in another university, in which there were several “interesting” personalities, chief of which was Dr O., who kept both colleagues and students up to date about the upheavals in his private life. His wife had finally left him after a long, severe depression, to which he was considered an important contributor. I once happened upon a sociology book written by Dr O., leafed through it very casually but was struck by his preface, one detail of which I have never forgotten. Where most male authors would have at least perfunctorily thanked their wives for their support, Dr O. declared that he could not do so because “Susan O.” (I forget her exact name) took no interest in his work, among other disqualifying items.

    Apart from his penning this uncalled-for bit of personal history, I find it appalling that a scholarly press let it be printed!

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