When did it pass into common usage to refer to a device's "settings"?

It makes perfect sense to call them that, since you "set" them, but such things didn't really exist until the age of electronics.

When and where did that term originate?

  • Non-electronic devices also have settings -- an engine's throttle, for example. I suspect the concept goes back as far as adjustable simple machines. I won't try to guess when it might have been formalized in English.
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 2:01

1 Answer 1


Google Books includes a book called "Principles & Practice of Ornamental or Complex Turning," first published in 1884, which uses the term to refer to the configuration of an "elliptical cutting frame." So the idea of "settings" as the configuration of a machine or device predates the electronics age.

Before that, the most plausible derivation to me--though I haven't researched it--is from "setting a sail" on a ship, which is a very old idiom. A sailing vessel is after all a complicated machine that you have to configure carefully by setting and unsetting sails.

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