Saturday, August 27, 2011


Although not directly on the topic of language change, skeuomorph is somewhat related to retronyms and is at the very least an interesting word. I first learned of the concept in an October 2008 A.Word.A.Day e-newsletter.

A skeuomorph is a design element copied from a once-functional element that is no longer required due to change of material or technology, and often serves no practical purpose. A good example is the electronic "click" sound added to digital cameras. Another is "woodgrain" plastic laminate countertop. The click may have some function in telling the photographer that a photo was captured, but the only advantage of the woodgrain pattern is its appearance.

Wikipedia gives several definitions and many examples. Some examples date back hundreds of years, so it's not just a recent phenomena. Ceramic ware has been found with clay "rivets" and seams added to simulate more expensive metal ware. Ancient Greek stone buildings were built with design elements that had been functional with wooden construction, but were merely decorative with stone.

Other examples of skeuomorphs play on our modern nostalgia for "good old days". Sepia tone photographic prints can be made from color images using digital manipulation to simulate prints made in the 1880s and 1890s. Modern hubcaps are made with decorative spokes to look like car wheels from the 1930s. Plastic sandals are made to look like leather, complete with molded "stitching".

Can you think of other skeuomorph examples? Remember that the original feature that is copied must have been necessary or have served some function.

No comments:

Post a Comment