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In 1963 Douglas C. Engelbart (1925), working at the Stanford Research Institute, was investigating different ways for humans to communicate with computers. He thought that a pointing device, something that a computer user could move by hand causing a corresponding movement in an object on the screen, would be easier to use and more intuitive than the existing keyboard. The computer mouse made its debut in 1968 at a computer conference in San Francisco, but it was not widely used until the introduction of personal computers in the 1980s. Since then, it has become a very popular pointing device for operating environments that provide graphical user interfaces (GUIs) .

The mouse is used in conjunction with the keyboard to perform tasks such as moving and pointing to objects displayed on the screen, selecting commands from menus, and working with drawing and painting programs. A mouse has one, two, or three buttons that can be pressed to send to the computer signals that activate commands. As the mouse is moved around a desktop, the on-screen pointer mimics its motion. This technique provides an extremely fast and smooth way to navigate around the computer screen.

How does a computer mouse work? There are two distinct user movements that activate the mouse: moving it around a desktop, and pressing one of its buttons.

As the mouse moves around a desktop, the tracking balla rubber ball underneath its bodytranslates the mouse movements into input signals that the computer can understand. Those signals are carried to the computer by the long cable that connects the mouse to one of the computer's ports. As the ball spins, it makes contact with and rotates two rollers installed at a 90-degree angle to each other. One of the rollers reacts to back-and-forth movements of the mouse, which translate into up-and-down movements of the on-screen pointer. The other roller detects sideways movements, which translate into side-to-side movements for the on-screen pointer. Each roller is joined to a wheel, called an encoder, which has a set of tiny metal bars, called contact points, on its rim. When the rollers go around, the encoders do the same, and their contact points touch two pairs of contact bars that reach out from the mouse's cover, thus generating an electrical signal.

A new signal is sent every time a connection is made between the contact points and the contact bars. The total number of signals shows how far the mouse has moved: a large number of signals means it has moved a long distance. The direction in which the mouse is movingup-and-down or sidewaysis communicated by the direction in which the rollers are turning and the ratio between the number of signals from each of the rollers.

The signals sent to the computer through the mouse's tail are used by the software that empowers the mouse. This software converts the number of signals from the encoders and rollers to determine how far and in which direction the on-screen pointer will move. The frequency of signals indicates the speed needed to move the on-screen pointer.

Each of the buttons on the top of the mouse covers a tiny switch that records when a button is pressed or clicked, and the time interval between clicks. Pressing one of the buttons on the mouse sends a signal to the computer, which again is passed on to the software. Based on how many times a user clicks the button, and where the on-screen pointer is positioned during these clicks, the software will execute the task selected.

Mouse Variations

A trackball is an upside-down mouse. With a trackball, the user spins a ball with his or her fingers to determine the speed and direction of the on-screen pointer. This is useful with laptop or notebook computers and other portable computers where there may be no desktop available.

A wireless mouse, a mouse without a cord, can also be used to perform pointing and clicking actions. Wireless mice use infrared or radio signals to communicate with the computer.

see also Game Controllers; Hypertext; Interactive Systems; Microcomputers; Pointing Devices.

Ida M. Flynn


"Input/Output." Understanding Computers. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1986.

White, Ron. How Computers Work, 2nd ed. Emeryville, CA: Ziff-Davis Press, 1997.

The computer mouse gets its name from its resemblance to a real mouse: it has a small body and long tail.

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mouse • n. / mous/ (pl. mice / mīs/ ) 1. a small rodent (family Muridae) that typically has a pointed snout, relatively large ears and eyes, and a long tail. Certain species may belong to the families Heteromyidae, Zapodidae, and Muscardinidae. ∎  (in general use) any similar small mammal, such as a shrew or vole. ∎  a shy, timid, and quiet person. 2. (pl. usu. mouses ) Comput. a small hand-held device that is dragged across a flat surface to move the cursor on a computer screen, typically having buttons that are pressed to control computer functions. 3. inf. a lump or bruise, esp. one on or near the eye. • v. / mouz/ [intr.] 1. (of a cat or an owl) hunt for or catch mice. ∎  prowl around as if searching. 2. Comput., inf. use a mouse to move a cursor on a computer screen: mouse your way over to the window and click on it. ORIGIN: Old English mūs, (plural) m̄s; related to German Maus, Latin and Greek mus.

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mouse in proverbial use, the mouse is often taken as the type of something small, weak, or insignificant, especially as contrasted with a larger, stronger animal.

A mouse is the emblem of St Gertrude of Nivelles.

In computing, a mouse is the name given to a small hand-held device which is moved over a flat surface to produce a corresponding movement of a pointer on a VDU screen.
country mouse a person from a rural area unfamiliar with urban life; the allusion is to one of Aesop's fables which contrasts the country mouse with the urban-dwelling town mouse. In the fable each mouse visits the other, but is in the end convinced of the superiority of its own home.
mouse and man an alliterative phrase for every living thing; it was probably popularized by Robert Burns in To a Mouse (1785), ‘The best laid plans o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley.’
a mouse may help a lion proverbial saying, mid 16th century; alluding to Aesop's fable of the lion and the rat, in which a rat saved a lion which had become trapped in a net by gnawing through the cords which bound it.
mouse potato a person who spends large amounts of leisure or working time operating a computer. An alteration of couch potato, the phrase is one of a cluster of terms which in the 1980s and 1990s developed in reference to an all-absorbing interest in computing.

See also Cat and Mouse Act at cat, church mouse, mice, one for the mouse.

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MOUSE (Heb. עַכְבָּר, akhbar), small rodent enumerated in the Bible with the rat and five reptiles ("creeping things"). It is so classified because as a result of its short legs its belly touches the ground as it walks. Isaiah (66:17) vehemently assails those who "eat swine's flesh, detestable things, and the mouse" at idolatrous ceremonies. The akhbar includes both the house mouse, Mus musculus, and the field mouse, Microtus guenthri, the latter wreaking havoc with crops. Their depredations can amount to a plague destroying substantial parts of the harvest. It was such a plague which visited the Philistines who captured the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord (i Sam. 6:4–11). They not only "marred the land" but also caused a plague of "emerods." It has been suggested that the latter reference is to a pestilence caused by the microbe, Pasteurella pestis, transmitted to man by rodent fleas. The symptoms are a swelling of the lymphatic glands especially in the groins, which was thought to be a form of hemorrhoids. Both house and field mice are frequently mentioned in the Mishnah and Talmud. The ancient view of the possibility of spontaneous generation finds expression in the statement that the mouse was formed from the earth (Ḥul. 9:6). A mean person was called "a mouse lying in his money" (Sanh. 29b). One who eats food which has been nibbled by mice was said to forget his learning (Hor. 13a).


Lewysohn, Zool, 105–7, 345; F.S. Bodenheimer, Animal and Man in Bible Lands (1960), 21–23, 46, 101, 110. add. bibliography: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 261.

[Jehuda Feliks]

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mousedouse, dowse, Gauss, grouse, house, Klaus, louse, Manaus, mouse, nous, Rouse, souse, spouse, Strauss •Windaus • madhouse • cathouse •Gasthaus • guardhouse • farmhouse •glasshouse • bathhouse • almshouse •penthouse • guesthouse • warehouse •playhouse •bakehouse, steakhouse •alehouse, jailhouse •gatehouse, statehouse •treehouse • wheelhouse • greenhouse •clearing house • meeting house •counting house • ice house •lighthouse, White House •doghouse • dollhouse •chophouse, flophouse •dosshouse •hothouse, pothouse •poorhouse, storehouse, whorehouse •courthouse • malthouse • Bauhaus •town house • outhouse • coach house •roadhouse • smokehouse • boathouse •oast house • schoolhouse •Wodehouse • cookhouse • clubhouse •nuthouse • beerhouse • powerhouse •summerhouse • barrelhouse •porterhouse, slaughterhouse, Waterhouse •workhouse • lobscouse • woodlouse •field mouse • titmouse • dormouse

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mouse A pointing device that is moved by hand around a flat surface: the movements in the x- and y-directions on the surface are communicated to a computer and cause corresponding movements of the cursor on the display. The mouse's movements are sensed by the rotation of a ball in its base, or by optical sensors.

The mouse has one or more buttons to indicate to the computer the desired function. It is normally connected by cable to the computer or may communicate by means of radio, infrared, or optical signals. Some mice incorporate a finger-operated roller to control scrolling.

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mouse Any of numerous species of small, common rodents found in a variety of habitats worldwide; especially the omnivorous, brown-grey house mouse (Mus musculus) of the family Muridae. This prolific nest-builder, often associated with human habitation, is considered a destructive pest and is believed to carry disease-producing organisms. It may grow as long as 20cm (8in) overall, and has been bred for use in laboratories and as a pet. Many species within the family Cricetidae are also called mice, as are pocket mice (Heteromydiae), jumping mice (Zapodidae) and marsupial mice (Dasyuridae).

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mouse In computing, input device that can be operated with one hand. It is designed to fit in the palm of the hand, with one or more buttons that can be pressed by the fingers of the same hand. When the operator moves the mouse around on a flat surface, it controls the movement of a cursor or pointer on the computer screen. See interface illustration

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mouse pl. mice OE. mūs, pl. mȳs = OS., OHG. mūs (Du. muis, G. maus), ON. mús; Gmc. and IE. *mūs- is repr. also by L. mūs, Gr. mûs, OSl. myšî, Skr. mū⋅-; f. a base identical with one meaning ‘steal, rob’.
Hence vb. XIII. mouser OE. mūsere mouse-hawk.

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1. (Old World) See MURIDAE.

2. (New World) See CRICETIDAE.