Word Spy Blog

A Quick Glance

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven; and as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name; such tricks hath strong imagination.
—William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Today’s Word Spy post is glanceability, “A design that enables something to be read or understood with just a glance.” In the coming age of ambient computing, information will surround us, either as ambient interfaces that are everywhere you go, or as wearable technologies that go with you everywhere. Either way, one of the goals of this new era is make information available quickly and easily — ideally with just a glance — hence the focus on baking “glanceability” into the new devices. For example, here’s an ad for a glanceable “Live Cricket Scoreboard”:

(Note to North American audiences: The phrase “live cricket” here refers to the game, not the insect.)

The word glance is quite old. Its origins are unknown, but it entered the language in the late 15th century meaning either “to glide off with full impact” (as in a “glancing blow”) or “to dart or move quickly, especially to the side.” So some linguists think the word is a nasalized form of the French glaichier, “to slide or slip.”