Meaning of what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG)

The phrase ‘What you see is what you get’ (WYSIWYG) has become very popular in recent years, but many people don’t know the origin of this term.

It’s easy to find out the meaning of a common saying or idiom by looking it up online, but that doesn’t help with phrases like WYSIWYG that have no clear definition. You can look up the meaning of every word in a sentence and still not understand how they fit together.

This website takes an innovative approach to explaining idioms and other commonly used expressions by showing examples from real-life usage rather than just giving their definitions. For example, here’s one explanation for “what you see is what you get”

What's the meaning of the phrase 'What you see is what you get'?
What’s the meaning of the phrase ‘What you see is what you get’?

What’s the meaning of the phrase ‘What you see is what you get’?

What's the meaning of the phrase 'What you see is what you get'?
What’s the meaning of the phrase ‘What you see is what you get’?

WYSIWYG implies a user interface that allows the user to view something very similar to the result they would get. For example, Microsoft Word is a WYSIWYG editor: it allows the user to type their document and see what they’ll get as if they were actually printing it off (i.e., text appears as black letters on a white background).

A web page like this one allows users to see how their page will look to other people before they actually upload it. In this way, WYSIWYG implies a user interface which is very similar to the final product.

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The above example does not define or explain ‘what you see is what you get’, but instead provides an example of usage that shows how the phrase sounds in real-life speech. If you want to know the meaning of ‘what you see is what you get’, then this page is not for you – it’s assumed that users are already familiar with the phrase, but if they’re not then hopefully this page will help them understand where it comes from and how it’s used in context.

What’s the origin of the phrase ‘What you see is what you get’?

What's the origin of the phrase 'What you see is what you get'?
What’s the origin of the phrase ‘What you see is what you get’?

‘What you see is what you get’ or ‘WYSIWYG’ was coined by Richard Brodie, who worked for Microsoft in the late 1970s. Richard noticed that users of cut-down home computers made mistakes with spelling and grammar because they couldn’t see their work as it would look printed out. He suggested making a system that displayed text as it would be printed, which he called ‘What you see is what you get’.

Brodie’s idea was implemented in Microsoft Word for Windows. According to the official history of Microsoft, “the first version of WYSIWYG word processing appeared on computers running MS-DOS” in 1983, but it wasn’t called ‘Word’.

Before the adoption of WYSIWYG techniques, text appeared in editors using the system standard typeface and style with little indication of layout. The only way the document would look like the author intended was when it was printed. For people who weren’t very experienced with computers, this made editing difficult and time-consuming because they had no clear idea of how their work would appear and had to print and proofread everything several times before being satisfied.

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Richard Brodie came up with a new idea that would give writers a more accurate representation of their work on screen. The original concept was referred to as ‘F Y C’ (from the old programming phrase, “What you see is what you get”), and evolved into WYSIWYG after moving to Microsoft in 1979 and working on an early word processing program for the Apple II.

Bravo, a document preparation program for the Alto produced at Xerox PARC, is generally considered to be the first program to incorporate the WYSIWYG technology. It was used for creating, editing, and printing documents.

Microsoft’s ‘Word’ program appeared in 1983 and popularised the idea commercially. The ability to change fonts, italicisation etc., was not new but the fact that it allowed users to be able to see what their document would look like on screen before printing just by clicking on

Etymology

The phrase “what you see is what you get,” from which the acronym derives, was a catchphrase popularized by The Firesign Theatre.

Afterwards, it was used in numerous comedy routines by George Carlin and Jay Leno before being popularized across America by shock comedian Andrew Dice Clay in the late 1980s.

The phrase has been a part of American culture since the early 1970’s when comedians such as  Gilda Radner  and  Chevy Chase  began using it on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.

A simple search will yield hundreds of results for the phrase, and its meaning is easily inferred by context. There isn’t much to explain about this phrase that can’t be understood from a quick Google search; we merely hope to explain where it comes from and why.

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The acronym, WYSINWYG, was created later to stand for “What You See Is Not What You Get”, meaning that something seen or read doesn’t correspond with reality.

While this might seem like a good joke based on the original meaning of ‘what you see is what you get’, it’s actually the opposite and seems to miss the mark.

WYSINWYG is not an acronym, but rather a portmanteau – two or more words jammed together to make one word. The first word of ‘wysiwyg’ is ‘what’, the second word is the first word of ‘you see’, and the third word begins with ‘w’. “What” is not an acronym, so WYSINWYG is not an acronym.

Bottom Line

‘what you see is what you get’ doesn’t need to be turned into an acronym because it’s already one: WYSIWYG.

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