It is a typical workaday sound, but it caught my attention at work yesterday: a staccato duet of digital slapping and rattling, two typists’ particular aptitudes setting in tandem a tidy recital, inputting a tapestry of tapping artistry. One would crescendo, then the other would join; a weave, an ebb, a flow, an echo. Utterly stochastic and yet quite perfect, like slapping droplets of hat-ripping rain attacking a flat roof – so calming as long as you’re dry and inside – or the ecstatic crackling of a fire as it licks up a partly wet or sappy log. I had to pull out my iPhone and record a snippet of it – not a high-quality recording, but still you can hear just a little bit of the concert:
Such a tight little tattoo they type! Like a tapdance solo, but not in any particular time step; there’s not even an eccentric ictus; rather, it’s just a quotidian utterance in its erratic iterations. Its notes are detached (older Italian distaccato, reduced later to staccato), making what we might call a patter.
The patter of raindrops. The patter of tiny feet. Patter is often thought of as gentle, or quiet, or steady, or rapid; people who patter are auctioneers and salesmen and singers of Gilbert and Sullivan. You know a pat is usually light, like a tap, but still crisp; the word pat is imitative (probably). To it add the old frequentative er suffix you see on clatter, flutter, wander, waver, twitter. A pat and a pat and a pat a pat pat, pat a pat, pat a tap pat, tap a tap pat tap, pat a tap a pat pat. Stochastic terpsichore of the distal phalanx: fingertips trip the light fantastic in an epileptic puppetry.
And you can, if you want, see the sound reflected in the word shape: every so often the thumb hits the spacebar p and in between some taps are sharp and spiky tt and others are soft a er. If you set to typing it repeatedly, patter patter patter patter patter, you will get a type of rhythm – you may also notice that the right hand just pops in for p and space while the left gets up and atter. Say the word in repetition and you will observe quickly how it ricochets between lips and tip of tongue, a very simple pattern that keeps a tight apterture.
Real actual patters can be more complex and chaotic, of course. Keep an ear and a recording device cocked to capture the slapping and patting and become a tapping patter pattern trapper.