Invention

The Invention of Blinking Is Stranger Than You Think

Controversy, Controversial Research, and Military Engineering

Author image via Canva

YesYesYou wouldn’t think there would be much to say about the blinking story, but you’d be wrong. When I noticed the Google question, “Who invented blinking?” I nervously glanced around for hidden cameras. I thought it was a joke. Then I explored the question further.

I quickly realized that the invention of eye blinking is far stranger than I ever imagined. Welcome, readers, to the bizarre and controversial history of blinking.

Optional Challenge: Try not to blink while reading this article.

If you ask Google when blinking was invented, you’ll get a bunch of websites and forums claiming that Richard Blink invented blinking in 1638 when he (and hilariously) tried to blink twice.

Of course, that’s the whole made up story.

No one invented the blink. Or, you could say that the first creatures that walked the earth invented blinking. You could even say that prehistoric humans invented the blink.

If you believe the Bible, Adam and Eve probably blinked a time or two in the Garden of Eden. If you believe in other variations of ancient history or mythology, then some other god or alien invented blinking somewhere.

Blinking as a semi-automatic bodily function was “invented” when any human or other being first developed the ability to blink.

We don’t know the exact year, but we know it wasn’t 1638.

According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of European neurologyThe blink reflex was first described in 1896 by Walker Overend.

The opening paragraph of the research includes this juicy detail:

Historically, it was described by Overend in 1896 and soon after by McCarthy and by Bekhterev who disputed its origins.

I don’t know about you, but I want to know more about this scholarly dispute. Unfortunately, the research paper glosses over this historic tea.

I like to think that McCarthy or Bekhterev were unconditional supporters of Richard Blink.

Charles Kiesling served in the Navy during the Korean War. Once the war is over, he joins the ranks of the first computer users.

He would go on to co-develop some of the most important internal mechanisms of computers.

But, in 1967, he filed an innocuous patent for a mundane computer feature.

This feature was the flashing cursor.

His 2014 obituary even mentioned it. An article on Inverse.com unearthed an old computer forum post attributed to Kiesling’s son.

The forum post describes why Keisling invented the blinking cursor:

I remember he told me the reason behind the blinking cursor, and it was simple. He said there was nothing on the screen to let you know where the cursor was in the first place. So he wrote the code so he knew where he was ready to type on the CRT.

Robert Mannyng wrote Handlyng Synne, a personal devotional, confessional and historical account written in rhyme in Middle English.

Handlyng Synne Is translated by dealing with sin.

In his famous work, Mannying wrote “Yn twynkelyng of an ye”, which is the Middle English version of “In the blink of an eye”.

To relate it to our topic, Phrase Finder notes that “a blink of an eye” eventually became “In the blink of an eye”.

Makes sense.

When dealing with sin, you probably need to do a lot of frustrated winking.

Dictionary.com comes out of nowhere boldly stating that blinking, as a word, was invented in the mid-1200s. I don’t even think Richard Blink was born then, so I’m skeptical.

Here’s how Dictionary.com describes the invention of blinking:

The earliest records of the term blink date to the mid-1200s. It comes from Middle English blenken, meaning “curdle, recoil, or twitch.” Humans unconsciously blink a lot without realizing it – up to 20 times per minute! Maybe this frequency is why we have so much meaning of the word blinking.

I don’t know about you, but for now I’ll refer to blinking as “cowling” just to see the confused looks on other people’s faces.

Did you do it? Have you gone through the history of blinking without closing your eyelids?

To end this article, here are some other flashing historical facts that I found fascinating:

SelectHealth also says:

An average person blinks 5.2 million times per year (17 times per minute, 14,280 times in 14 hours, 5.2 million times per year)

We are all like giant cursors on the computer screen of the world.