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I often encounter the usage of "to fix" verb in the meaning "to correct".

Was this a widespread use before the computer age?

How would you conduct the other meaning of "to fix", i.e. to make something to stay in place strongly without moving or vibration in such a way so to avoid the confusion and ambiguity?

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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's just an unfortunate ambiguous homonym. It's not just those two meanings either. There's about 20 different meanings for fix. The appropriate meaning will have to come from the context.

I fixed the text position.

Could mean:

  • I corrected its position by changing it.
  • I locked its position so that it won't change.

I fixed his meal.

Could mean:

  • I prepared it.
  • I corrected some problem with it.

The only way to avoid ambiguity is to use an appropriate synonym in lieu of the word 'Fix' or be sure that the context is unambiguous, such as in:

I need my cocaine fix.


Origin

The word fix comes from the Latin fixus, Perfect passive participle of fīgō, which means to fasten/fix, to transfix/piece, or to drive nails. So it didn't get the meaning "to correct" from there. I'm certain that the meaning "to correct" has been around for far longer than computers. For instance, the phrase "fixer-upper" meaning "a person who fixes things", was appearing in print as far back as 1932.[1]

My guess is that since 'fix' has always included the meaning 'to fasten', and many things are repaired by fastening them, like a roof or a structure, the use came from the association with people 'fixing' things that have come unfastened to repair them.

Finally found something that looks definitive. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fix&allowed_in_frame=0

fix (v.) late 14c., "set (one's eyes or mind) on something," probably from O.Fr. *fixer, from fixe "fixed," from L. fixus "fixed, fast, immovable, established, settled," pp. of figere "to fix, fasten," from PIE base *dhigw- "to stick, to fix." Sense of "fasten, attach" is c.1400; that of "settle, assign" is pre-1500 and evolved into "adjust, arrange" (1660s), then "repair" (1737). Sense of "tamper with" (a fight, a jury, etc.) is 1790. As euphemism for "castrate a pet" it dates from 1930. Related: Fixed; fixedly (1590s); fixing.

[1] http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/fixer-upper.html

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Thanks. But was this meaning fix=correct widespread before computers and programming? –  Anixx Sep 21 '11 at 18:53
    
Still working on that part of the question :p –  Alain Sep 21 '11 at 18:56
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@Anixx - updated with my best stab –  Alain Sep 21 '11 at 19:25
    
Great! Not is is clear up to a year! –  Anixx Sep 21 '11 at 20:11
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You could use affix, although that is more along the lines of "attach". You could also say "to fix in place".

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To answer the first part of the question, ‘fix’ was first used to mean mend or repair in the eighteenth century (OED).

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You could add an adverb and/or prepositional phrase to clarify, such as:

I fixed it firmly in place.

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If you want to use it specifically for some machine or system, you might use "install"

You may consider "Secure it" or "Fasten it".

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Sorry but I meant not the meaning of the word "install". I meant making something already installed but not rigidly held, so it can vibrate or move to cease such movement. –  Anixx Sep 21 '11 at 18:49
    
You mean you want to "secure it" to the ground or wall? –  Matrika Sep 21 '11 at 18:52
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Possibly the most close synonym is "to lock". –  Anixx Sep 21 '11 at 18:54
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