Everyday verbal haptic analogies in English

(last update 10/17/97)

The traditional use of verbal analogies to haptic processes indicates the pervasiveness of haptic perception. We frequently make the analogy to haptics when we speak of our relationship to ideas, people, and information.

This is more than just word games. Each of the metaphors below suggests a whole new application for computer haptic interfaces.

"feel [an emotion or intuition]"
"touching [emotional information]"
"to feel touched [by attention, acts, or words of another]"
"the human touch"
"stroke [a person's ego]"
"tactful [behavior]"

"get a feel"
"look and feel [of an interface]"
"feel out"
"feeling our way"
"poke [into/around]"
"put one's finger [on the problem]"
"scratch the surface"

"[to stay/keep] in touch"
"touch on [an idea]"
"touch base"
"reach out and touch"
"tangible [concepts]"
"[a] touchy [subject]"
"[a] ticklish [issue]"
"contact [Mr X.]"
"[meet a new] contact"
"[to stay in / maintain] contact"
"hands-on learning" (often used literally)
"on/at hand"
"first/second hand [knowledge]"
"second hand [merchandise]"
"on the other hand"
"a bird in the hand [is worth 2 in the bush]"
"just out of reach"
"at my fingertips"
"keep at arms length"

"get/lose a grasp [of the situation]"
"get/lose a grip  [on the situation]"
"get one's arms/hands around [a complex idea]"
"put a call on hold"
"get hold of a problem"
"get a handle on a problem"
"a bird in the hand"
"pull-down menu"

"manipulate [someone's feelings]"
"massage [an ego / a manuscript]"
"pressing issues"
"pushy [behavior]"
"push technology" (!!)
"pull [one's chain]"
"pull [it] together"
"yank [one's leash]"
"hard hitting [presentation]"
"[ideas that] pack a punch"
"twist [the truth]"
"handle a situation"
"knock on wood"
"knock [an idea or person]" (to criticize)
"kick in the pants"
"kick ones butt"
"I get a kick out of you"
"toss around [an idea]"
"that magic touch"
"the healing touch"
"a touch of class/flavor/art"

"hammer [on someone's idea]"
"dig deep"
"cut to the quick"
"pry into [a question]"
"wipe the slate clean"
"wipe out a memory"
"drag [and drop] an icon" (!)
"fiddle around"
"pull up by one's bootstraps" (origin of "booting" the computer)
"by the seat of the pants"

"abrasive [personality]"
"hot [idea]"
"sticky [issue]"
"smooth [operator]"


From an advertisement by International Paper Co. in The New Yorker, Oct. 20, 1997:
It's been suggested since the dawn of the computer age. A future in which everything worth knowing is accessible on screen. But as it turns out, people don't just want information at their fingertips. They want it on their fingertips. They want to be able to touch, fold and dog-ear ...