Saturday, December 26, 2009


The difference between a ditto machine and a mimeograph machine was raised on Tuesday’s program. I can see why there’s confusion. When you go online, there’s absolutely contradictory material.

Here’s what I remember, having used both in my early teaching career.

The ditto machine used a master sheet that transferred a carbon substance to the back of a white sheet. It was then attached to the drum of a ditto machine and was good for a limited number of copies, perhaps a little over 100 if you were lucky.

The mimeograph used a stencil cut on a typewriter minus the ribbon. Copies came out purple and had a very distinctive smell because of the aniline dye. Since they came out damp, you had to be careful about smudging, but they were good for perhaps 500 copies. You could save and reuse the master.

Of course, the focus in this blog is etymology. Ditto comes from an Italian word (detto) that meant already said or spoken. Originally, it was used with dates, so you wouldn't have to keep repeating the name of the month. In mimeograph, mimeo- comes from a Greek verb meaning to imitate, and –graph came from a Greek verb meaning to write.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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