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What is a Stylus?

What is a Stylus?

To understand the definition of a "Stylus", it is helpful to understand origins of the word itself. The word "stylus" has many meanings and can be traced back centuries. Throughout those many years, a number of word variants have been adopted, including "stilus" or ""stake", or, in the case of the Greeks - "stylos". Regardless of the spelling or pronunciation, the word "stylus" has identified a sharp stick used to mark surfaces to record information, even though the particular application of it has varied.

Roman wax tablet with three styli (modern reproduction)In ancient times, a "stylus" was used for writing on tablets of clay, or wax. The wax tablet was a fairly ingenious invention for the time as it became one of man's first re-usable writing surfaces. It consisted of a beeswax surface on a wooden or leather frame, upon which a writer could record characters and images with a stylus made of wood, bone or metal. After being used, its beeswax surface could be re-melted smooth to be readied for re-use. A more detailed history of the wax tablet and stylus can be found on Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wax_tablet.

record-grooves.jpgAnother famous implementation of the "stylus" was used to record sounds, and eventually music. Created by Thomas Edison in the late 19th century, the "gramophone" or "phonograph" used a stylus to etch tinfoil or wax paper. As time went on, a number of different materials were adopted to record or playback sound, many of which used a stylus, still used today to play back sound from vinyl records. A more detailed history of Edison's invention can be found on Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonograph.

magic-slate.jpgOne of the most notable, if not first, uses of a "stylus" for writing in modern times was to draw and write on a toy called the Magic Slate. This toy consisted of a plastic "stylus" used to "etch" images on a plastic layer overlaying a soft black background. The result was a black image showing through the plastic layer, which could be erased by simply peeling back the plastic. This popular toy is still sold today in many forms all over the world.

pda-stylus-in-use.jpgThe most commonly known "stylus" in modern times, is the "PDA Stylus", used as the primary interface device on today's SmartPhones, Tablets and PDA's (Personal Digital Assistants) and handheld computers. What is ironic in this use of the term is that, throughout history, the stylus was used to scratch a surface, something that is highly undesirable on an expensive handheld screen. Worldwide there are tens of millions of handheld computers in use in personal and commercial applications, most of which rely on the stylus as their "mouse".

Other Stylus Resources & Information

Wikipedia - Stylus - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stylus

Wikipedia - Wax Tablet - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wax_tablet

Wikipedia - Phonograph - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonograph

Merriam Webster's Definition of a Stylus - http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stylus

Britannica's Definition of a Stylus - http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9070072/stylus


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