General Science, Mathematics, and Technology


What is the origin of the expression “Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate”?

This is the inscription on an IBM punched card. Frequently, office workers organize papers and forms by stapling or folding them together, or by impaling them on a spindle. Because Hollerith (punched) card readers scan uniform rectangular holes in a precise arrangement, any damage to the physical card makes it unusable. In the 1950s and 1960s, when punched cards became widespread, manufacturers printed a warning on each card; IBM’s “Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate” was the best known. In 1964, the student revolution at the University of California, Berkeley, used the phrase as a symbol of authority and regimentation.


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