1

When talking of something (for example, breadcrumbs) that can fall on my keyboard and end between the key and the keyboard, what should I say?

Breadcrumbs can fall under the keys.
Breadcrumbs can fall behind the keys.

To be clear, I am referring to the space behind/under the key, not the space between two keys.

screenshot

8

I would tend to say "Breadcrumbs can fall into the keyboard" rather than either of your alternatives.

"The keyboard" refers to the whole unit including the keys so the crumbs don't end up "between the key and the keyboard" but are simply inside the keyboard.

3

Under the keys or behind the keys describes where the falling breadcrumbs come to rest. You would use these only if you had clear acrylic keys, or had dismantled your piano to clean the breadcrumbs out, and could see where in fact the breadcrumbs ended up.

In cases where we cannot perceive (or don't care about) the final resting place of a falling object, we generally describe the most important point on its trajectory: It fell through the window or She fell down the rabbit-hole. In the case of breadcrumbs on a piano or laptop keyboard, you would probably say:

Breadcrumbs can fall between the keys.

It's a bit trickier with the keyboard you show, where the keys poke up through a whatchamacallit. (I don't know what it is, and neither do 999 out of 1,000 people; and that's relevant because that means you don't have the option of saying “between the keys and the X”.) But since in this case under, behind and between are all equally objectionable, because they all may be taken to designate the surface of the whatchamacallit, I think most speakers would fall back on the analogy with a piano keyboard and use between, or possibly down between ...

Unless, of course, you made them stop and think about it. There's no telling what would emerge from that.

  • I have to provide a picture of my keyboard. I would give to between the keys a meaning that is different to what I want to say. It could also be I am splitting hairs, and the distinction I am making is not necessary. :) – kiamlaluno Apr 16 '13 at 13:02
  • @kiamlaluno I understand why between would seem to refer to the space that separates the two keys, but we don't really make that distinction when speaking. (Possibly because crumbs falling in that space isn't something to ever really talk about; if it fell in the space separating one key from another, you could get to it easily and probably wouldn't mention it). So although it might not perfectly describe the position of the crumbs, I think we do say 'between' in the situation you described, as Stoney says :) – WendiKidd Apr 16 '13 at 13:30
  • @kiamlaluno Ah - I was thinking of a piano. I will address this in a rewrite. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 16 '13 at 13:42
  • I can't agree with your line of reasoning about "under" or "behind" being inappropriate because we can't see the crumbs. Just because we can't see them doesn't mean that we don't know that they are there. We can tell, for example, when they interfere with the operation of the keys. Even if we couldn't know or couldn't be sure, we might be interested in discussing the subject. There are lots of subjects that people discuss where proof is elusive. – Jay Apr 16 '13 at 13:55
  • @Jay I don't say it's inappropriate; I just don't think most people would use them in these circumstances, because they're not particularly concerned with where the breadcrumbs end up when they're describing where they went. But when I wrote this I was thinking of a piano keyboard. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 16 '13 at 13:58
0

Either word conveys the intended meaning. I usually say "under" in such a context, but neither is clearly right or wrong and people would readily understand you either way.

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