Definition of Gadget

What is a Gadget exactly?

As I have been telling people about Gadget Bubble, I have found it interesting that several people have asked me “What is a gadget?”. I think everyone knows what a gadget is, but the idea of a gadget is so fundamental that sometimes it is challenging to specifically define what we mean by the term.

In this article we will explore some of the definitions of what the term gadget can mean, including what we mean when we refer to gadget at Gadget Bubble.

Dictionary Definitions of the Word Gadget

A good place to start our exploration of the meaning of ‘Gadget’ is with some common dictionary definitions of the word, to see what commonalities there are between the definitions and whether they fully encapsulate what we mean, or if they need to be expanded upon to truly understand what a gadget is.

Hands typing on a laptop photo

First, from the Cambridge Dictionary we find a very brief definition of Gadget:

A small device or machine with a particular purpose.

Not much to argue with there. The definition is specifying that a gadget is something physical, it is more than an idea, it is something that has physical form. It also includes the idea that a gadget has a specific purpose, which is of course true as gadgets are normally made to do something, but the definition gives us not direction or limitation on what that purpose might be.

The Merriam Webster dictionary add some interesting details within its definition:

An often small mechanical or electronic device with a practical use but often thought of as a novelty.

It is interesting that this definition specifically mentions the device being either mechanical or electronic, especially as the term gadget was in use long before the existence of modern electronics. I think the reason for this specific inclusion of electronics within the definition is referred to in its second part. A gadget is often thought of as a novelty – which implies newness, so it is natural that gadgets will often employ the latest technology within them. I wonder if in another 100 years dictionary definitions for the word gadget might then include specific reference to some new technology that we haven’t even conceived of yet?

The specific technology used within a gadget is not what makes it a gadget. As the definition says, the device in question may be electronic or mechanical, but there will often be a ‘newness’ to it.

The Merriam Webster definition also includes the specification that the device has a practical use. Certainly many gadgets are very practical in nature, but… I can also think of many gadgets that few people would think of as practical… Including practicality within the definition of a gadget raises the question of who gets to decide what is practical?

The Oxford Dictionary includes some more interesting details within their definition:

A small mechanical or electronic device or tool, especially an ingenious or novel one.

It is interesting that this is the second dictionary to specify within their definition that a gadget is small – and also debatable. There is often a tendency to think of gadgets as something small, and this is often part of their wonder, that something so small can make such a significant difference. But the idea of something being small is relative – and while gadgets may often be small, I don’t think smallness is part of the essence of what a gadget is.

Another idea introduced within the Oxford Dictionary definition does refer to something that is much more fundamental about gadgets. Gadgets are not just novel or new – they are also “ingenious”. Part of the essence of a gadget is that it comes from thinking about things differently, from putting ideas together in new and different ways, from approaching a problem or task from a different angle or a new perspective. To do this involves a certain level of “genius” which we all benefit from, and can inspire even further to new creativity and ways of thinking.

The Oxford Dictionary definition also makes specific mention of a gadget being either a device or a tool. It is interesting because while there are many gadgets that are tools in that they are used to accomplish some specific task, some people would make a distinction between a gadget and a tool, and the last dictionary definition makes reference to why this distinction is sometimes made.

The Collins Dictionary definition:

A gadget is a small machine or device which does something useful. You sometimes refer to something as a gadget when you are suggesting that it is complicated and unnecessary.

This definition from the Collins Dictionary includes many of the parts we have discussed already, and includes something that none of the others we have examined have mentioned – that a gadget can sometimes be perceived as something that is “complicated and unnecessary”.  The inclusion of the modifier “sometimes” makes this unquestionably true, and a deeper reading of the implications of this detail helps us to delve further into the deeper nature of what a gadget is, and what it represents within our consciousness – many of the parts of which have already been referred to within the other definitions, and a lot of it comes down to the subjectivity of how we interpret each of those parts.

A gadget – according to those other definitions, refers to something new, or ingenious. It also has a particular purpose, which may or may not be useful. When something is new, and particularly if it is ingenious – meaning that it represents a leap of thinking, there are often people who don’t fully understand it. They may question if the gadget is necessary, or useful, and because of the different kind of thinking behind its creation, they may think it is complicated. This can lead to the term gadget being used in a disparaging way. This perception is all a matter of perspective though, and once a gadget is widely understood – these people will often stop referring to it as a gadget, which for them has negative connotations, and instead, because it has proven its worth and is now in common use – simply refer to it as a tool. Part of the essence of a gadget is that it represents innovation and different thinking. When this innovation becomes fully integrated broadly into society, often we stop thinking of it as a gadget. This is a fascinating transition in the way that a gadget is viewed, and you can read more about in our article The Lifecycle of a Gadget.

Gadget Bubble’s Definition of a Gadget

If we compile together the different parts of the dictionary definitions we have looked at, leaving out the parts that were debatable or overly subjective we are left with the following. A gadget is:

  • A device of machine
  • Which has a particular purpose
  • And is novel or ingenious

That’s a pretty good start to a definition, but there is another more intangible quality that could be added to describe what we think of as a gadget at Gadget Bubble. For us one of the key qualities of a gadget is that it is FUN! Part of the fun can come from the pleasure of getting things done better, faster or more efficiently by using a gadget. Other times the fun comes not from these very practical benefits, but rather from the way a gadget can help you to think differently about the world – sometimes seeing new possibilities, other times seeing humour!

So the Gadget Bubble definition of a gadget is:

           An ingenious novel and fun device or machine that has a particular purpose.

Of course this definition is very broad – and that means there are lots and lots of different kinds of gadgets that can bring that fun into our lives. There are kitchen gadgets, office gadgets, health and fitness gadgets, gadgets for camping and outdoors, spy gadgets, gadgets for your pets, and so many more!

Here at Gadget Bubble we a constantly seeking out the latest and most interesting gadgets, as well as digging up some of the coolest gadgets from the past as well. You can check out our reviews of the gadgets we find here, and you can even shop for some of the best and most popular gadgets here.

If you love gadgets as much as we do, you might even want to join our bubble and subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest gadget news, reviews and articles, click here.


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