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

This particular adventure seems to have taken place in 2011.

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.

I know we’re only a paragraph in, but I remember now.  It wasn’t because of 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 a more stable method of date  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!”?

(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 discovered the form through 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.

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.