Is there any word or phrase denoting the sound of typing on the keyboard?

I made my research, through which I found two words from Quora — a Q&A site; those two words are: "clicking" and "tac tac." But at there, a user, namely Victoria A. Mouritzen adviced against accepting these two words, as she says in her answer:

“I almost scrolled past this, I really did: But then I realized how good of a question it really is. Reading some of the other answers, mostly describing the typing sound as 'clicking', or another describing it as a characteristic 'tac tac', I think that neither of those fit quite as well as I want them to."

Moreover, she gave an option to describe the sound of keyboard typing figuratively, either in a simile or metaphor:

Have you considered describing the sound in a simile or metaphor?

  • “Her fingers danced skillfully over the plastic keys, the keys singing out like a chorus of doors on a faulty latch.”

So here, I ask that is it okay to describe such sound as "clicking" or "tac tac"? Or should I agree with the answer of Victoria here?

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    To me it sounds like Victoria is a wannabe author indulging in purple prose. Every stylistic device has it's use, but unless it actually serves some purpose, clicking is just clicking. Some valid purposes of purple prose about clicking would be highlighting how distracting they are, describing how well work is going (even to say flowing), or just making narrator look pretentious. – M i ech Oct 15 at 10:11
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    Since keyboards vary enormously, I do not think that any generic sound can be assigned to them. Some do not have any moving parts and are silent, save for the sound of fingertips on plastic. Some make a variety of noises depending on the parts involved in the process. – Nigel J Oct 15 at 11:00
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    Personally, I would describe it as "tapping" on a keyboard. – B.fox Oct 15 at 11:04
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    click-clack-moo: cows that type – cat Oct 15 at 13:40
  • I work daily with four keyboard, each of which sound different. My work laptop's keyboard is sharp, quiet taps; my external keyboard has loud clicks; and my personal laptop is soft thumps. – Nic Hartley Oct 16 at 23:39
up vote 22 down vote accepted

As someone who was a computer repair tech for 15 years and has now been a professional programmer for 6 years (with +25 years non-professional programming) (also having done some research on keyboards over the years for gamers as well), there are two words that normally come up.

Click: for the normal, modern era keyboards that are the membrane (quiet) keyboards that most everyone uses in an office or at home.

Clack: for the "old school" 1980's style keyboards that were mechanical keys. These keyboards tended to be really heavy. This word also describes what you might hear at a gaming convention, as many gamers like the feel of mechanical keys over membrane keys. There are even a variety of different mechanical keys you can get for a gaming keyboard, as each one has a different amount of feedback/pressure and sound. I've heard gamers talk to each other about what type of keys they use, including what they feel and sound like.

Both of these words can be strung together with hyphens to note steady typing: click-click-click (for softer sounds) or clack-clack-clack (for louder sounds).

"Clack" can also be used to describe someone who is "energetic" with their typing, even on an office keyboard. They might be typing really fast or really hard on even an office keyboard. "Working in my cube, I sometimes listen to the quiet click-click of nearby co-workers going on about their day. Usually, though, I can also hear Bob clacking away at his desk as if he was in a hurry."

You can also mix them up while stringing them together to mix soft and strong keystrokes. "Joe always had a tendency to emphasize his "Enter" keystrokes, with a click-click-clack of his keyboard."

I've seen "clickety-clack" used in some books, but I don't think I've ever heard it used verbally.

You might also be able to use "snick":

Google noun definition #2
a sharp click.
"he heard the snick of the latch"

"Snick" might be more for a sharp staccato of a single key press, or where a certain key makes a louder sound than normal. "The office was usually so quiet that I could hear Sue in the next cube typing. Her keyboard was weird in that I could hear one key snicking louder than the others."

As B.Fox mentioned, "tapping" could be used. However, that's more of a style of typing (like "pecking") and doesn't really describe a noise, but it would imply a softer sound coming from a keyboard, although not necessarily an actually key press. "Ann sometimes gently tapped her fingers on the keyboard when she wasn't sure what to type. Only occasionally a letter would accidentally pop up on her screen."

As an example of someone who is excessively loud on their keyboard, you can use "banging". "Jeff was banging out his manuscript as if his life depended on it, disrupting the quiet of the office." This can also be used when something bad happens. "Pam banged on her keyboard as the computer blue-screened, again."

  • 7
    In my experience, "Snick" as an onomatopoeia tends to refer to springloaded pointy items like flipknives, switchblades or razors, it sounds sharp, rather than being a sharp sound per-say. It even has the word "nick" in it. Obviously this is my own subjective experience but I'd find "snick" an odd choice if I read it in a book. – Ruadhan2300 Oct 15 at 14:30
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    @Ruadhan2300, I included it more for "completeness" than normal usage, although there are a few rare times I might have used "snick" for a keyboard. – computercarguy Oct 15 at 14:38
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    Programmers bang code out on their keyboards. In the office I hear people clicking away. At night when I am hacking for fun, I am quietly tapping on my keyboard. Sometimes I am furiously hammering at the thing. – Sentinel Oct 15 at 22:32
  • The sound of typing on a touch screen I would probably describe as 'tapping'. – AkselA Oct 16 at 18:53

The first word that came to mind when reading the question title was: clickety-clack

clickety-clack noun
click·ety-clack | \¦klikətē¦klak\
variants: or clickety-click

Definition of clickety-clack

: a rhythmic usually fast click-clack
the clickety-clack of the wheels along the railroad track
the clickety-clack of typewriters

Personally I wouldn't recognise the words "tac tac" as the sound of typing.

And to answer your final question: no, don't believe Victoria. Keys don't sing and doors don't form choruses.

Afterthought: maybe the most straightforward solution is simply, "typing". That word by itself is already enough to evoke the sounds that go with it!

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    The clickety-clack of type writers. A computer's keyboard has a much softer sound, like pitter-patter... – Mari-Lou A Oct 15 at 10:37
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    @Mari-LouA My good old keyboard doesn't! But you're right, perhaps we do need to distinguish between the various kinds of keyboards. – Mr Lister Oct 15 at 10:39
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    @MrLister Maybe we should, but this sounds like unnecessary hassle. I am told there are two major types of computer keyboards, membrane and mechanical, each sounding different even without going into detail of each model sounding different. I think for technical writing clicking is enough, for fiction/artistic writing, that's up to writer. – M i ech Oct 15 at 10:43
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    I would go simpler with clicking or clacking, there are even YouTube videos of just the sound of a clacking keyboard. – arp Oct 15 at 13:37
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    @Mari-LouA I installed a KeyClick utility on my Mac to simulate the sound that an old VT100 terminal made. – Barmar Oct 15 at 16:39

Consider using the word "clatter". It aptly describes the sound made when most people type - unless your emphasis is on single or few key strokes.

“Her fingers danced skillfully across the plastic keys, the soft clatter of the keyboard singing like a chorus of tiny doors on a faulty latch.”

No plagiarism here - hopefully.

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/clatter

I hope you are looking for click-clack.

click-clack (noun)

A repeated clicking sound. OXFORD

Within the computer industry this is called keyclick or key click.

An audible feedback provided when a key is pressed. It may be adjustable by the user.

This term is mostly used when the sound is generated artificially, to make the feedback from computer keyboards seem more like mechanical typewriters (the sound there came from the typebar hitting the platen). Modern computer keyboards produce very little sound from the actual tapping (not much more than just tapping lightly on a tabletop).

  • I think this answer is currently very underrated, as using the proper industry jargon for this will make discussing the issues around key click much easier with people who care about it (and yes, serious coders and gamers care deeply about key click, as do UI designers and human-factors people). – T.E.D. Oct 17 at 11:15

There is no single word, because there is no single sound. Indeed, computer keyboards alone (they not being the only keyboards that one can type at) intentionally vary as to their sounds. (Interestingly, one guide to film sound effects recommends that sound effects technicians buy multiple different types of keyboards because audiences can notice when the sound effect dubbed on afterwards does not match the type of keyboard on the screen.)

The sound of computer keyboard typing can be ticking, clicking, clacking, rattling, or clattering. If one regards, say, mechanical typewriters one can find them described as clicking (again), whacking, and even thumping.

These are (some of) the prosaic terms one will find in use. The suggestions on Quora are somewhat florid. Another slightly less florid term that one can find used is chittering.

Further reading

For your consideration, I submit Rattle

"The rattling of the keyboard was like rain on a car roof"

Rattle indicates that it's a rapid series of noises.

The sound of my keyboard while typing this answer is actually remarkably similar to my example quote.

Alternately Tapping which indicates a more deliberate sound and suggests a more circumspect user.

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