This is a good example of a relatively unusual scientific word that in recent years has become more widely known through a specific use. It refers to the sense of touch or tactile sensations.
It appeared near the end of the nineteenth century, at first as a medical term. It was coined from the Greek haptikos, able to sense or touch, which derives from the verb haptein, to fasten. It’s closely related to the rare English prefix hapto–, as in haptotropism for the reflex action in plants such as honeysuckle or bindweed that causes them to twist around objects they touch. At one time, people most often came across the word in connection with hard contact lenses, which were described as haptic because they were moulded exactly to fit the shape of the eyeball.
In the past decade or so, haptic has become more widely used in the world of immersive virtual-reality computer systems by those who design techniques and tools that reproduce the sense of touch. Joysticks and the like are now being designed so that they feed tactile information back to the user about the way the system is functioning. An object that has been visualised on a computer may soon be capable of being felt as well as seen. Such tools are commonly known in the business as haptic devices.
Page created 26 Aug. 2000
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