Why Is It Called Microfiche? Or, Sometimes Google Is Slower Than Books

Their short-lived data storage division did, however, give rise to the microfridge.

I don’t remember what prompted me to think about microfiche last night, but I think it was probably Pawn Stars.  I do remember asking my wife why it was called microfiche in the first place, and I think she said “because it’s small.”  She then proceeded to pat me on the head and tell me everything was going to be alright.

Speaking of my wife, now I remember why I was thinking about microfiche.  It wasn’t Pawn Stars, but we were watching Pawn Stars while she was reading some historical newspaper articles online.  The quality of their digitized forms was very high, and we supposed that they must have been converted from microfilm by a local researcher in a library.  Then I said “maybe it was microfiche” and I started saying “fiche” over and over again until I sounded like the lunatic chef from The Little Mermaid.

Microfiche.  One more thing your kids won’t do, Generation X.  But your great-great-great grandkids might.  In the proper conditions, it turns out that microfiche may be more stable for data preservation than digitization.   If you’re keeping track at home, that’s Analog Media 2, Digital Media 1.0 × 10100.   But the old school’s two points, one each for document/image storage and audio capture, arguably represent the summation of everything we preserve in the first place. Someone who knows more than I do about the merits of actual film and digital video should weigh in on the most stable ways to preserve The Princess Bride and my Christmas Concert ’89 tapes.  Did someone say “time capsule!”?

Chicago Bears football team quarterback Jim Mc...

Why, yes. This is a picture of Jim McMahon with an (his?) F-16.

Speaking of time capsules, the other day was the Super Bowl.  Generic congratulations to  all you Packer fans now out of the way, let’s talk for a quick second about Jim McMahon.  His Starting Lineup figure (Bears gear) was my contribution to a 7th grade time capsule still buried somewhere behind the junior high.  Why Jim?  Because I could not part with Randall Cunningham or Reggie White, obviously.

Back to analog media.  A few days ago I got to watch a digitized version of some home movies from the 50s.  The originals were taken on Super 8, and let me just say: I’m glad for the ability to watch them without having to break out my projector screen (my house came with one, no lie), but there’s something dramatic and classy about what that film did with color.  The fact that no one dressed like slobs back then also helps.

And now to the heart of the matter.  Why, exactly, is it called microfiche?  I learned about the fiche from my junior high librarian, probably the same day she enlightened half the class (that would be my half of the class) by explaining what the ROM in CD-ROM was.  What an interesting little retro-future moment now that I think of it.  I had friends with email and BBS, but most of my digital communications knowledge was based on that episode of Silver Spoons that featured Mister Mister.  Anyway, I don’t remember Mrs. Willdonger telling us what fiche was in the first place.

A photo of Jimmy Wales used in the 2008 Wikime...

You will learn to appreciate my nuances, Jimmy Wales.

I decided that my wife’s answer was finally inconclusive. Like you’re supposed to do when you get curious, I Googled microfiche.  I clicked the Wikipedia link (Wikipedia is way more letters than Google) and was taken to a catch-all page for microform.  Bush league, Jimmy Wales.  Way bush league.  Beer league, even.  If you think for one second there were etymologies on a hack job like this one, guess again.  If you’re not imagining me pronouncing “guess again” like Jimmy Dugan, you’re missing half the fun.

Back to Google I went. A few more clicks, a few more link farms.  Finally I checked an online dictionary.  Fiche is French for “peg, slip of paper, index card.”  Of course.  I have the llama from the cover of Vs. in my brain where junior high French should be.  Ask this guy about that one.

Rather than stubbornly insist that a laptop with an internet connection is always the best way to get information, it would have been much more efficient to run upstairs and hold aloft the 10-pound dictionary on my bookshelf for the reason microfiche sounds like such made-up word.  Analog Media: 3.

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15 comments

  1. I stopped reading at “Jim McMahon figure” and was incredibly impressed. Couldn’t relate to the rest of it. Had to Google “analog”. Apparently that word applies to more than the sticks on my Xbox controllers…

      1. I know, I know… get off your lawn.

        Some of my fondest memories revolve around drunk R.B.I. Baseball last semester.

    1. Have you ever tried to turn Merriam-Webster into a verb? Incidentally, did you know that “Webster’s” is not trademarked? Apparently, anyone can make a dictionary and name it Webster’s. I read that in conjunction with Google’s Bing Sting.

  2. Microfiche. Wow does that take me back. I remember thinking how cool it looked. It looked so “high tech” in the movies too. Haha. If you start talking card catalogs, I will feel ancient.

      1. Wow. The Dewey Decimal System. I’m feeling nostalgic (and old) now. I can just smell the old musty library book with the pocket on the inside of the cover. It held the card that the librarian stamped with the “due by” date. Library fines, getting lost in the aisles, and the grand dame “shushing” anyone who disturbed the studious atmosphere. Good times.

  3. Did you squares know that “Hipster” is a bastardization traced from Cab Calloway’s jazzy Webster-japing “Hepster Dictionary” from 1940?
    That’s solid murder, gate.

  4. I am a testament to my Generation: I have NEVER used Microfiche…we’ll see if my grandkids are the ones that end up using it. :)

  5. Another proof for Chris’ lack of French Class experience:

    My most vivid memory from this particlar class was the day Chris responded with the answer “French fries a la mode…” (and an uncanny bout of giggles) to a serious query regarding diction from our “dear” (i.e. wicked) French Teacher. She did not have a gift for teaching middle school students and I afraid my dear friend spent the rest of the class session out in the hallway.

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