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The meaning and origin of the expression: Hunt and peck

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Hunt and peck

Meaning

Typing by looking for characters on the keyboard individually.

Origin

As a two-finger typist, I've always admired the speed and dexterity of those who touch-type. I stick with 'hunt and peck - that is, I find for a character on the keyboard and then stab at it with the nearest index finger.

The expression 'hunt and peck' of course began with the typewriter and we need not look for its origin beyond the date of that machine's invention. As it turns out, that gives us quite some scope as the earliest machines that can lay claim to being called typewriters date from the early 18th century. In the UK in 1714, Henry Mill was granted Patent No. 395, which was described by the patent committee like this:

Our Trusty and welbeloved Henry Mill, gent., hath by his petition humbly represented vnto us, That he hath by his great study and paines & expence invented and brought to perfection an artificial machine or method for impressing or transcribing of letters, one after another, as in writing, whereby all writing whatsoever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print.

We have no picture of the device, but that sounds like a typewriter to me.

Hunt and peckEarly typewriters were heavy and not suited to fast typing - there was little alternative to 'hunt and peck' as a typing method. Nevertheless, the expression didn't come into public use for some long time after typewriters were in general circulation. The first mention of it that I can find in print is in American newspapers from the WWI period. An example is found in the Texas newspaper The Daily Bulletin, January 1916:

The students of the typewriter department are doing excellent work and gradually getting speed. Boxes are so arranged that the student is unable to see either the key board or his hands. This will eventually develop into the touch system though the "Hunt and Peck" system has been most in evidence.

I can't leave at item on the history of typing without mentioning Giuseppe Ravizza's 1855 typing machine invention. He called his version the 'Cembalo scrivano'. In English, that is 'Scribe harpsichord' - what a much nicer name than the prosaic 'typewriter'.