Origin of play, stop, pause, etc. buttons?

When were these first settled as distinct shapes and by whom?

The play button, as an arrow pointing forward, and the skip/fast forward buttons seem pretty obvious but less so for the others.

Vox Imperatoris

Now that is a good question, and I await some answers with interest. Why does two vertical lines mean “pause”? Yet everyone knows that it does.

I found this:

That’s the character “ri” but I can’t find anything more about this…

A couple of Metafilter threads on this:

Which links to Dolmetsch Online - Music Theory Online - Tempo

Maybe more plausible than katakana?

This might not be much help, but it may narrow things down a bit.
Here is a picture of what I think was the first commercially available Compact Cassette recorder from 1965, sold by Phillips under the Norleco brand.
As you can see it doesn’t feature the standard button layout, so it’s probably fairly safe to assume that it was a later invention and not part of the original specification.

I’m 90% my first audio cassette recorder, a Panasonic ca. 1977, had the now-standard square block for stop, the triangle pointing to the right (not forward, OP: there is no “forward” in two-dimensional symbolspace :)) for play, and 60% certain it had the double triangles for fast forward and rewind. The record button was a different color but didn’t have the circular dot now associated with the record function. I don’t remember if [del]the pause button had a symbol[/del] it had a pause button.

Looks fairly standard to me - the problem is that you’re thinking of buttons where this uses a series of switches. Bit even here fast forward, rewind and play have the form we usually recall today, and record is the round red dot - again a form all of us would recognize.

Interesting. We still have that cassette recorder. We also have a Grundig De Luxe open-reel tape recorder from the same time period, which does feature the standard icon set (play, pause, fast forward, rewind, stop, and record). So it did exist at this time period, but may not have been standardized across manufacturers yet.

This isn’t the one, but a model from 1963:

and it has the standard icon-set for tape operations.

Whereas this model from 1961 does not:

So somewhere between 1961-1963 it seems someone decided to lay down the groundwork for this. By the late 1960’s it seems to have been widely adopted

Does it? Where? I only see the red dot for record and then single forward and backward arrows, which presumably just show the direction of tape movement. I don’t see the square for stop, two lines for pause or double arrow for FF/REW, but the picture is pretty small so I can’t see what’s on all the buttons.

Sony’s first Betamax VCR had them in 1975

At least the single and double arrows are clearly there. The record button is red, but a bar not a dot. The picture’s not clear, but it looks like it could be a double line for pause.

It goes much earlier than that. Sony also had them on their tape recorders, including this one:


which according to the website was used between 1964 and 1967.

Do the play and other arrows point the opposite direction in places where the language is read from right to left?

AFAIK the arrow points to the direction of movement of the tape. On models where you load the cassete upside-down the arrow points to the left


Not seeing it.


It’s easier to think of it this way:

You have two arrows, one points right, one points left. Which one points “forward?” That answer is completely arbitrary. It might seem obvious to some that the one pointing right is forward, but that is culturally-based, most likely a result of our left-to-right reading system. Someone from a right-to-left culture might interpret the left pointing arrow as “forward.”

However, as was mentioned earlier, the “play” arrow isn’t necessarily always pointing right, rather it is sometimes pointing in the direction that the tape winds. I don’t have enough experience with tape decks to confirm this, but it makes sense. So, perhaps, in this case “forward” works. The “forward” here could be interpreted as, “the direction of movement which advances the tape forward.” A contrived interpretation, maybe, but definitely understandable and commonly inferred.

Quite right. “Forward” in this case means the direction in which the tap advances during normal playback. Fast forward would then be the same direction, only… well… faster. And “reverse” would be opposite of the direction of normal playback. Which way does a tape play? That depends on the design of the playback device. Some cassette decks load the tape upside-down so it winds to the left. And on models with auto-reverse the tape may also wind to the left, although from the recording’s point of view it is moving “forward” in order to play back your music.

Just as I suspected. So, the bottomline is while “forward” has no inherent meaning in two-dimensional symbolspace, that doesn’t mean you cannot define it. So, while we can all appreciate KneadToKnow’s joke, it doesn’t exactly work here because, WRT tape decks, “forward” is defined. In fact, using “right” or “left” in this case would be misguided as not all tapedecks use right-pointing arrows. However, can we be certain that all tapedecks follow the “point the arrow in the direction the tape advances” convention? Can anybody give any recent examples of tape decks that defy this convention? I’m sure there are older ones that follow weird conventions before things became more standardized, as we have all seen, but I’m more interested in recent examples. Let’s say in the past 15-20 years.

My tape deck has two ‘play’ buttons on each cassette well. One points to the right and the other points to the left. If you push the right-pointing one, the tape advances to the right and the deck plays the program whose label is on the front of the cassette, facing outwards. If you push the left-pointing button, the tape advances to the left and the deck plays the program on the other side of the tape, whose label faces the back of the cassette well.

What happens if you press both at once? :stuck_out_tongue:

I’m still curious about the Pause symbol, though. I’m fairly convinced by the caesura (||) theory that I quoted above, but it would be interesting to know for sure. Also, any Japanese speakers care to comment on the “ri” katakana idea? Sounds dubious to me.

Hadn’t even thought to weigh in on “リ.” AFAIK that is bogus. I have never seen “ri” used to mean a pause and, in Japan, the word “pause” (as in what you might see written on a tape deck) is “ichijiteishi” written “一時停止” in kanji and “いちじていし” in hiragana. Although I suppose you could make some crazy connection between い and the pause symbol, I don’t think it is likely. On every tape deck and VCR I have seen here, if it has a pause button, it will be just the regular pause symbol with “一時停止” in kanji usually written next to it.

FWIW, my Mitsubishi VCR doesn’t even HAVE a pause button. Just a stop button, “teishi” or 停止.

Yes, this.

(Except for the part about understanding the joke, which I didn’t, because the thing that makes the joke not work is so blatantly obvious.)