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Folded, Spindled and Mutilated

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 07, 2006

In Reply to: Folded, Spindled and Mutilated posted by Brian from Shawnee on June 07, 2006

: : : : : : Folded, Spindled and Mutilated.what does this mean?and examples?thank you very much!

: : : : : Your phrase, "Folded, Spindled and Mutilated," is a reference to another phrase, "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate." That, in turn, is a reminder of the "punched card" age. After World War II one of the big inventions of the post-war period was the computer. And I do mean "big" invention, since the first computers were huge. Their input and output of data relied on punched cards. Large business quickly began to use computers for, among other things, billing. The bill you got in the mail would very likely be a punched card, which you were supposed to return with your check. You could not process the returned cards if they were damaged, so recipients were warned: "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate." On many desks sat a spindle, a needle-lie device pointing upward on which to impale pieces of paper with which you expected eventually to concern yourself.

: : : : : As computer technology rapidly moved forward, with augmentation of memorary and miniaturization of components and other improvements, it became possible to input data directly through a keyboard and print it out on regular paper. Thus, by the end of the '80s, there was generally no longer any need to say "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate." But millions of people had repeatedly read this injunction, almost invariably stated the same way like a religious incantation, and it was inevitable that whimsical and humor-minded inviduals would have fun with the words, declaring themselves, for instance, to have been Folded, Spindled and Mutilated.

: : : : : The end of its widespread commercial use does not signal the end of the history of punch or punched cards. The action seems now to be primarily in the election area, in the technology of voting machines. See Florida, election of 2000. SS

: : : : Corrigenda: needle-lie, lege needle-like; memorary, lege memory. SS

: : :
: : : I am interested in this use of the word 'spindle'. If I understand you correctly, this device is what I would know as a 'spike'. This side of the Atlantic the spike was used not for items pending, but for those which were rejected; specifically in the world of journalism: editors would impale substandard or otherwise unused copy on the spike - hence a story being 'spiked'.

: : : DFG

: : What's the purpose of keeping things you've rejected?

: When I was a child I formed the opinion that "spindle" in this context meant "roll up (a piece of mail) so as to fit into a small space". Then I read here that it means "stick on a spike". But now I'm wondering, why would you somebody "spike" an unopened envelope? Did people in old-fashioned offices really do that with unopened mail? Surely the instructions "do not fold, spindle, or mutilate" were for the person delivering the mail, not the person receiving it.

In my previous post I concentrated on the post-war era because it is the one with which we are most familiar, and in which the phrase "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate" seared its way into our consciousness. Actually punched cards were used late in the 19th century, and before WW 2 many government agencies used them. For a period of time all government checks were on punch cards.

Spindles (from spinning) have many forms and uses. Stephen Lubar describes their typical use thus: '"Spindle" is the word that most confuses people today. Spindling is an old filing system; a clerk would have a spindle, an upright spike on his or her desk, and would impale each piece of paper on it as he or she finished with it. When the spindle was full, you'd run a piece of string through the holes, tie up the bundle, and ship it off to the archives. (The custom still survives in some restaurants; the cashier spindles the bills as customers pay.)'

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