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The Word “Default”

A “default” sounds like a bad thing. And for good reason. Many of its definitions are about failure:

  • Failure to act; inaction or neglect: They lost their best client by sheer default.
  • Failure to meet financial obligations.
  • Law. Failure to perform an act or obligation legally required, especially to appear in court or to plead at a time assigned.
  • Sports. Failure to arrive in time for, participate in, or complete a scheduled match.

But there is one definition of “default” that isn’t about failure at all. It’s the computing definition of the word:

  •  The preset selection of an option offered by a system, which will always be followed except when explicitly altered
  • (as modifier) : Default setting


The default settings in your computer are the settings that the programmers decided are the most typical computing choices you will make. Default settings can be modified, either by setting a new default or by making a one-time-change.

For example:

  • On your printer, the “default” settings are “one copy, 8.5″ x 11″ paper, portrait orientation, and single sided” because that is likely what most of your printed documents require.
  • When you open a new Word document, the “default” text is set to an easy-to-read font (usually Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman) and to a readable size (11pt or 12pt). The “default” color is black.
  • The “default” setting for time on your device is the 12-hour format (AM and PM). If you prefer 24-hour military time, you can change the setting.
  • Your computer’s Task Bar (Windows) or Dock (Mac) is positioned by “default” along the bottom of your screen. If you prefer it along either side instead, you can change the setting.

Now when you hear the term “default” in reference to your computer, you will not think you have failed it. For once, it is not “de-fault” of the user. How refreshing!

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