Who would have thought that defining a wimp may lead you astray? I began my search on an obvious path and reference point, Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary. Their definition is:

  • wimp, n: a weak, cowardly, or ineffectual person

Digging a little deeper, other definitions catch my eye:

  • A timid or unadventurous person
  • A person that lacks confidence, is irresolute and wishy-washy

It begs the question, how many different kinds of wimps are there in this world? Non-human ones, to my surprise! In 1980, Merzouga Wilberts coined the acronym WIMP, the abbreviation for human-computer interaction, “window, icon, menu, pointing device”. While computer geekiness is near to my heart; a more interesting and perhaps controversial conversation centers on the wimpy role and how it impacts the individual or organization effectiveness. Are there similarities or conclusions we can draw between the two meanings?

So began my quest for the true meaning of WIMP. Let’s take the computer definition one word at a time. For example, window has many definitions, ranging from an opening in the wall or roof to an interval of time. The etymology of the word is from Middle English, from Old Norse vindauga: windr, air, wind. It is a word used figuratively, the one that comes to mind is window dressing, implying that something is better than what it might actually be at face value.

Icon is an image or representation. It may be someone who is the object of great attention and devotion. It’s origin is from the Greek eikon, is to be like, seen.

The word, menu, is often referred to as a list of dishes available for a meal. The French origin, menut, comes from the Latin – minutus, meaning to diminish.

Pointing device is a little trickier – let’s it break down. To point, refers to the sharp or tapered end. It’s origin is Old French and Latin, to prick, mark moment. Device today is seen as an invention that serves a purpose. The roots of the word are from Old French, is division, wish, and Old French devise, design. Both are from Latin – divisus, to divide, separate.

Sitting back and letting all these new meanings soak in, my mental image wanders and these questions begin to emerge:

  • Is the wimp a master at window dressing?
  • Does the wimp have an image to uphold?
  • Is being liked more important?
  • How does the wimp diminish others?
  • Is the wimp’s purpose to divide others to make their mark?
  • Do they behave by design?

My gut tells me some of these questions may not necessarily warrant an weak and ineffectual person. What are your thoughts?