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TWTS: In which we double-click on "double-click"

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There was a time when double-clicking simply meant to press one of the buttons on your mouse in quick succession to open a folder on your computer or start a program.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates this original meaning of double-click back to 1984. These days though, we also have the metaphorical extension of “double-click” which has Professor Anne Curzan’s attention.

“There’s a colleague of mine at the University [of Michigan] in the business school who uses ‘double-click’ as a way to talk about digging into something deeper or going into the details,” Curzan said.

If you’ve spent time in the business world, you too may have heard “double-click” used to mean to take a closer look at something. You may have even heard it enough that it started to become annoying, as is often the case with jargon.

The first sign of “double-click” touching some nerves appears to come in 2007. The author of techno.blog called it out after hearing a techie use “double-click” to talk about going deeper into a topic.

The author noted, “I wanted to right-click and delete the guy every time he used this phrase.”

Over the years, “double-click” has made appearances on lists of despised buzzwords. In 2020, the Atlantic even published a bracket of corporate buzzwords that included “double-click.” It lost to “lean in” in the first round though, so perhaps some of the ire has died down.

Professor Curzan admits that when she first started hearing “double-click” used this way, she too found it to be “so jargony.” However, now she thinks it’s clever.

“I think one of the things that annoys people about jargon is that it can be used a lot, but we don’t want to lose the fact that there’s often creativity here as well.”

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Rebecca Kruth is the host of Weekend Edition at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
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