A Jewel Case But Not For Jewels

Even before the advent of computers, the English language could get confusing when a word could have two very different meanings but was still the same spelling. In the computer world, many new names were needed for things that did not previously exist. Sometimes, a totally new word was coined but, quite often, existing words were used; sometimes with a certain amount of logic behind the choice; at other times the choice was more whimsical.

Let’s take the term Jewel Case as an example. Logic would tell us that this is a special case that we would use to hold either raw jewel stones or an easier way of saying jewelry case. Computer buffs would tell us something much different in that the words refer to a special, hinged case, usually made of plastic which is used to store one, or maybe two, optical media disks – CD, VCD, or DVD, etc. All these disk types can be easily damaged so a protective case is essential for safe storage and transportation of your disks.

But, why call it a Jewel Case? The origins of this usage are not totally clear but, it is thought that this type of optical disk protective case was so virtually perfect that it was a jewel of an invention (jewel being used in its adjective meaning of “perfect”). Compared to the likes of paper and card sleeves that were used for the old 45 rpm records, this plastic box with its transparent front was a big improvement in terms of both protective function and visual presentation. Additionally, the Jewel Case needn’t be much larger than the diameter of a modern optical disk making for easier bulk storage and transportation. Through buying pre-recorded disks (both audio and video), we are all familiar with this “perfect” packaging.

In today’s electronic, computer age, many of us have taken to burning our own media onto various forms of optical, compact disks. The habit has caught on to such an extent that many of us prefer to save money when purchasing our blank disks by buying disks in bulk packs. When we do this, part of the money saving is that each blank disk is no longer packed in its own individual case. Often we will keep our finished disks in protective wallets or binders which can hold multiple disks but, from time to time, we still wish to single out one of our recordings for individual packaging; this has introduced demand for empty jewel cases from the general public.

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