Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In several books that mention GUI, keyboard, or mouse buttons (e.g. the book Programming Windows by Charles Petzold), the authors refer to the state of a pressed button as depressed. Why is this term used instead of the word pressed, which has a simple and intuitive meaning?

Some alternative terms that could be a better fit are pushed, clicked, or activated. As someone who is not a native-English speaker, the term depressed is unintuitive to me because it resembles the opposite meaning: not pressed.

share|improve this question

migrated from programmers.stackexchange.com Apr 14 '11 at 18:29

This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

Because buttons become very sad when you press them. –  JSBձոգչ Apr 14 '11 at 19:18
@JSBᾶngs Actually, people feel 'pressed down' when they are said to be depressed. –  Kris Feb 18 '12 at 11:19

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

From TheFreeDictionary.com:

depression 1. a. The act of depressing. b. The condition of being depressed.

And the verb:

depress 4. to press or push down

So ... depressed works just fine for the state of a button being pushed in.

share|improve this answer
So to elaborate for the OP, "Press" means to push, regardless of direction. "Depress" specifically means to push DOWN. –  Kevin Apr 14 '11 at 20:04
It's interesting to me because "deselect" is the opposite of "select", so I've assumed that "depress" was used in the same way. Also, I'm terrified that this question was moved to this website. Spelling mistakes.. gulp –  Andrej M. Apr 14 '11 at 20:31
if you needed the "opposite of press" you could, in some cases, write de-press. (Think of some sort of metal-working factory.) BTW the spirit of your question - the fact that "de-" can mean more than one thing -- so what? English is a total mess! You can give literally thousands of examples of words that "should mean" something else, in a humorous way. –  Joe Blow Jul 23 '14 at 8:12
@Kevin So what's the word for "push UP"? –  endolith Nov 21 '14 at 19:10
@endolith Press-up - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Push-up –  Kevin Nov 21 '14 at 19:26

"De" is also used as a prefix meaning "down to the bottom" or "away", which can also lead to "completely", as in the examples here: denude, denigrate.

It may count as an auto-antonym, also called contronym. But I can't think of an example of un-pressing something.

share|improve this answer
On a manual typewriter, pressing Caps Lock both physically pressed down the Shift button and kept it depressed. So if you wanted to take caps off, you had to un-press the Shift button (usually by pressing Caps Lock again, thus making the Shift button undepressed). Maybe that's why it's all electric these days. –  TimLymington May 14 '11 at 23:17

Not sure, but my guess is that it's because technical writers are trying to make a distinction between the act of pressing something and the state of something being down/pressed/depressed.

depress and press are pretty much exact synonyms, but almost no one ever uses the term "depress" to describe the act of pressing something. It's correct, but the usage is rare. It's usually used to refer to the state of something. The word pressed is used both ways. But technical writers exploit the rarity of the usage of "depressed" to emphasize the distinction between between the state-word and the action-word.


He pressed the button, and it was pressed.

Was the button actually in a down-state after it was pressed, or is the sentence just saying the same thing twice, that he attempted to press it?

He pressed the button, and it was depressed.

Okay, got it, his attempt to press the button was successful, and it left the button in a down-state.

share|improve this answer

Depressed can also mean the the button is in a lowered state, which is the result of pressing it.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.