Plus & Minus in a Perfect World

A screwdriver should be such a simple instrument and yet there are two irritating types: Flathead and Phillips. (Actually there are more…) If I need a Phillips, I have a flathead screwdriver. If I need a flathead…

Yesterday, while replacing a bathroom doorknob and installing blinds in a window, I contemplated how complicated the simple screw/screwdriver combination is. For a big flathead screw, you need a big flathead screwdriver. For a small flathead screw, you need a small flathead screwdriver. But wait… then you have the Phillips type — thanks in no small part to Henry F. Phillips — big and small. And unlike Goldilocks, it is hard to find the ‘just right.’

Despite his adding to the great big-small screw confusion, I see wisdom in the Phillips. Last night while reaching high to install the little boxes that would hold the blinds, I was having trouble with the old 1960s flathead screw stuck – and I mean stuck – in the wall from the previous blinds. My screw driver kept slipping out and hitting the wall. I think Phillips was on to something.

Not only does the flathead make the screwdriver slip, but it is also known by too many names in English. Did you know it is also called ‘slotted’ or ‘straight’? Or how about Standard, Regular, or Flat tip? Far too many names for an instrument that makes your hand slip and scar the walls. “Do you have a slotted screwdriver?” “No, but I have a flathead.”

Well, what’s my point? Very simply, I suggest we follow the Japanese lead. I believe, in the movie Mr. Baseball (Tom Selleck) the leading lady said something to the effect of “The Japanese take the best of the world and make it their own.” At least in the case of screws, they make it better. Observe:

プラス and マイナス

マイナス mainasu Flathead (which conveniently looks like a minus sign!)
プラス purasu Phillips (which conveniently looks like a plus sign!)

This proves Japanese are good with Math.

In short, a perfect world would have no screws or screwdrivers, but it would be nice to have a one-size-fits-all Phillips screw and screwdriver with no Flatheads. This would be good for the environment too! Just think of all the trees that would be saved by replacing ‘flathead’ (which would be an archaism) and all its derivatives with ‘Minus’ in all the world’s English dictionaries! Furthermore, replacing the word ‘Phillips’ with ‘Plus’ would shave off four huge letters saving tons of paper. In a perfect world…

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