A Question for the Ages: Disk vs Disc?

Ask Mr. Modem!

Q. Sometimes I see the word disk spelled disc, and other times as disk. I know I'm probably nitpicking, but which is correct?

A. If you're into picking nits, you've come to the right place! When new words enter the English language, they often appear in one or more variations until one form prevails over the others. There are also occasions when competing forms remain in use for a long time. Such is the case with disk and disc.

"Disk" came into the English lexicon in the mid 17th century and was originally spelled with a k. "Disc" appeared on the scene about 50 years later as a derivative of the Latin discus -- though the Greeks didn't help matters by spelling it diskos, which conjures up images of polyester, strobe lights, and John Travolta in a white suit.

The spellings later began to be sorted out by function. Late in the 19th century, people started using disc to refer to a new method of making phonograph recordings on a flat plate. Disc became the accepted spelling within this context, which is why we listen to disc jockeys and not disk jockeys.

Both disk and disc were used interchangeably well into the 20th century, with people in the U.K. tending to use disc, and Americans preferring disk. In the 1940s, when American computer scientists needed a term to describe flat, data-storage devices, they chose the spelling disk, which became the common usage in related words such as hard disk and floppy disk.

When the compact disk made its debut in the 1970s, both disk and disc were in competition. Computer folks preferred the familiar disk spelling, while people in the music industry, who viewed the shiny circular plates as another form of phonograph record, referred to them as compact discs.

These preferences soon became standard practice in each respective industry. That's why we buy compact disks in computer stores, but the same storage devices that contain music are called compact discs in music stores. To further complicate matters, the computer industry created the optical disk, which is the same format that the entertainment industry later used to create the DVD or digital video disc.

Q. How can I open several specific photos at once? In other words, I don't want it to close one photo when I open a new one. Thanks, Mr. M.

A. To open multiple photos when viewing a list of files, hold down the SHIFT key and click the first photo file to select it, then scroll down to the last one and click that. This will highlight (select) all files in between. If the photos you want to open are not located next to each other, use the CTRL key instead of the SHIFT key, and select (highlight) just the photo files you want to open.

When you have the photos selected that you want to open, right-click and select OPEN. This same technique works for cutting and copying files, as well.

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Television Obscurities
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Mr. Modem publishes "Ask Mr. Modem! each week, featuring PC tips, tricks, and plain-English answers to your questions by email. For more information, visit www.MrModem.com.