} Actually, "ESC" doesn't stand for "escape." That's just a common
} misconception. Here's how it came about.
} The first computer with a keyboard, the Dohrstop 2000 (named for its
} inventor, Gerald Dohrstop), took its keyboard from an Olympia manual
} typewriter. However, the operating system used on the Dohrstop
} ("DOS," the Dohrstop Operating System) required that subtraction
} operands be enclosed in brackets, which were not to be found on the
} typewriter keyboard.
} However, there was a key just to the right of the "P"...on the
} typewriter, it produced the fractions "1/2" or, when shifted,
} "1/4." The Dohrstop character set didn't include either of these
} fractions--they would have been unreadable at the small font size
} necessitated by the tiny amount of video RAM (none, actually). And so
} that key became the left bracket or, when shifted, the right bracket.
} It wasn't until two days later that a friend of Gerald Dohrstop's,
} Todd Nurter, discovered the fatal flaw in the Dohrstop 2000: there
} was no way to move the blinking square that showed the text insertion
} point (this item would not be named until a few years later, when
} Frank Cursor gave it its familiar name of "insertion point") to the
} next line down. This had always been accomplished, on typewriters, by
} moving the carriage that held the paper. Clearly this wouldn't work
} on computers, which didn't have carriages. Nurter had a brainstorm:
} a completely new key, never before seen on any sort of keyboard,
} which would accomplish this feat. After a few trials and errors,
} Nurter settled on a location for this key: just to the right of
} the apostrophe/quotation mark key. Nurter also named this key after
} himself, although in the form of an anagram. Nurter thought the Nurter
} 740 would revolutionize computing--however, at first, the only people
} who were really interested were typewriter manufacturers, who used
} Nurter's "Return" key on a brand new kind of typewriter: the electric.
} The major problem with the Return key was that it stuck out awkwardly
} on the right side of the keyboard. Clearly, something would have
} to be done about it, and the person to do it was Deidre Leit, an
} early female computing pioneer, who decided the Return key needed a
} companion, a key which would move the insertion point to the left.
} As Frank Nurter had done with his key, she named this key after
} herself--her last name and first inital, actually. Gerald Dohrstop,
} who was working on his Dohrstop 3000, paid her for the rights to use
} the D. Leit key.
} Dohrstop purchased a new typewriter, intending to use its keyboard
} for the Dohrstop 3000. He added the D. Leit key, but was then
} short a key for the row between the Return key and the D. Leit key.
} He went back to the brackets from the Dohrstop 3000, but this time,
} added a new key to the right of his original bracket key. Now there
} was one key for the left bracket, and another for the right bracket.
} Meanwhile, however, the typewriter manufacturers had struck back
} against the computer threat by adding another key--to the left of
} the 1, they had added a key that produced the fraction "3/4" or,
} when shifted, the symbol for "degrees." As with "1/2" and "1/4,"
} neither of these would work correctly with Dohrstop's character set,
} so he merely removed that key.
} Three days later, Wayne Macintosh began advertising his new "Macintosh
} LC," which meant "Lotsa Characters." The main selling point was
} that his keyboard was just like Dohrstop's, with the addition of
} some special, curly brackets on the keys above the regular brackets.
} These curly brackets were necessary to "brace" certain equations in
} Macintosh's operating system.
} (Since this was the second time a computer made by Dohrstop had become
} obsolete in just a few days after its introduction, he gave up the
} computer business and turned his attention to the hardware industry;
} not only is his name synonymous with computer equipment that becomes
} obsolete quickly, he also gave his name to a very common piece of
} hardware found in many homes around the world.)
} At any rate, this operating system didn't have a name until Macintosh
} came out with the LC II, which introduced a new feature added to
} the D. Leit key--it not only moved the insertion point to the left,
} it erased the character that was in the way. Macintosh changed the
} spelling of the key and began advertising his computer by asking
} the question "What Interface Now Deletes Out Weird Spellings?"
} His operating system became known by the initials of this question
} that was on every American's lips for a time.
} But getting back to your original question...the original Macintosh
} LC had the space at the upper left of the keyboard filled with what
} looked like another key--but wasn't--that read "ESC," an acronym for
} "Extended Set of Characters." It became common among Macintosh users
} to, whenever a program quit working (since the first program with a
} propensity to do this was a flight simulator, this became known as
} a "crash"), to jab at the "ESC" and complain that, if it weren't for
} the extended set of characters, the program would still be working.
} It took Frank Cursor, after returning to his hometown of Pittsfield,
} Massachusetts, to finally make the "ESC" what it is today--on
} his Pittsfield Cursor computer (or "PC"), in a subtle jab at the
} Macintosh computer, he made the "ESC" an actual key that would let
} users get out of a program whenever they wanted, before it crashed.
} ("Which of course it won't," he assured PC buyers.)
} It wasn't long before the PC was outselling the Macintosh, a lead
} it would never relinquish, despite gimmicks by Wayne Macintosh such
} as prominently labeling one model the "Macintosh IIsi" (Immoral,
} Indecent Stuff Inside) and including a live animal for the kids to play
} with in each computer box (sometimes a gerbil, sometimes a hamster,
} usually a mouse). Finally, in desperation, Macintosh made the "ESC"
} on his keyboards into a real key, just as Cursor had done--but added
} an "option" key, and required option and ESC to be used together
} to quit a program, since the user would get a message giving him
} or her the option of quitting the program or not at that point,
} something he thought would give him an advantage over Cursor's PC.
} It didn't, of course, and Macintosh sold the rights to his computers
} to the Beatles' record company.
} The PC had turned many ordinary citizens into computer users, who
} didn't remember the original Macintosh meaning of the "ESC," so they
} just assumed it stood for "escape," since they could use it to escape
} from whatever program was in progress.
} Now, aren't you glad you didn't ask about the "F" keys? (Oh, all
} right. In brief, there was an early music program for the PC that
} had a "jukebox" mode requiring the purchase of a keyboard add-on.
} F1 played "Your Cheatin' Heart," F2 played "Good Vibrations," and
} so on.)
} You owe the Oracle a keyboard with a Zot key.