It is a typical workaday sound, but it caught my attention at work yesterday: a staccato duet of digital slapping and rattling, two typists’ particular aptitudes setting in tandem a tidy recital, inputting a tapestry of tapping artistry. One would crescendo, then the other would join; a weave, an ebb, a flow, an echo. Utterly stochastic and yet quite perfect, like slapping droplets of hat-ripping rain attacking a flat roof – so calming as long as you’re dry and inside – or the ecstatic crackling of a fire as it licks up a partly wet or sappy log. I had to pull out my iPhone and record a snippet of it – not a high-quality recording, but still you can hear just a little bit of the concert:

Such a tight little tattoo they type! Like a tapdance solo, but not in any particular time step; there’s not even an eccentric ictus; rather, it’s just a quotidian utterance in its erratic iterations. Its notes are detached (older Italian distaccato, reduced later to staccato), making what we might call a patter.

The patter of raindrops. The patter of tiny feet. Patter is often thought of as gentle, or quiet, or steady, or rapid; people who patter are auctioneers and salesmen and singers of Gilbert and Sullivan. You know a pat is usually light, like a tap, but still crisp; the word pat is imitative (probably). To it add the old frequentative er suffix you see on clatter, flutter, wander, waver, twitter. A pat and a pat and a pat a pat pat, pat a pat, pat a tap pat, tap a tap pat tap, pat a tap a pat pat. Stochastic terpsichore of the distal phalanx: fingertips trip the light fantastic in an epileptic puppetry.

And you can, if you want, see the sound reflected in the word shape: every so often the thumb hits the spacebar p and in between some taps are sharp and spiky tt and others are soft a er. If you set to typing it repeatedly, patter patter patter patter patter, you will get a type of rhythm – you may also notice that the right hand just pops in for p and space while the left gets up and atter. Say the word in repetition and you will observe quickly how it ricochets between lips and tip of tongue, a very simple pattern that keeps a tight apterture.

Real actual patters can be more complex and chaotic, of course. Keep an ear and a recording device cocked to capture the slapping and patting and become a tapping patter pattern trapper.

4 responses to “patter

  1. An interesting sonic landscape in the recording; partly human, partly mechanical; busy people, busy machines; both making words not spoken. Recalls newspaper newsrooms in the 1960s, when the typewriting word-making would rise to a roar at deadline, then collapse. Only the odd feature-writer would be still ticking after deadline. A few hours later, the wave would build again, to the next deadline.

  2. The newsroom to me was filled with more clatter than a patter, but your comment evocatively brings that memory to mind.

  3. Eons ago when I worked as a clerk typist there was patter and clatter and that noise that is missing now, the ~RUSH ting!~ of the carriage dashing back to the beginning of the next line. I don’t exactly miss the sound, but it does sometimes seem as though there is an empty place in the patter where something used to be.

  4. Ado_Annie, your comment reminds me of a little musical piece involving a typewriter. I remember hearing it in cartoons when I was a kid:

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