Example with a context (Java: A Beginner's Guide, 6th Edition by Herbert Schildt):

OOP is a powerful way to approach the job of programming. Programming methodologies have changed dramatically since the invention of the computer, primarily to accommodate the increasing complexity of programs. For example, when computers were first invented, programming was done by toggling in the binary machine instructions using the computer's front panel.

I don't think I comprehend that part well enough. To toggle something basically means to switch it back and forth between two different states. But here, I'm really at a loss as to how I should interpret the action of toggling in this context. Plus, the preposition in also throws me off a little bit.

  • Do you understand what binary is?
    – Catija
    May 31, 2015 at 16:16
  • @Catija The main obstacle here isn't knowing binary, it's knowing how in affects the meaning of toggling. Prepositions don't work this way in Russian (nor in most languages, I think). I tried explaining the general idea here. The trick for an ESL learner is to learn to hear the "in" as an indication that you should find some way to interpret "toggle" as a verb of motion.
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 31, 2015 at 22:43
  • Cookie Monster: Congratulations on noticing that there's something odd about "in". Indeed that is the main clue to the grammar.
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 31, 2015 at 22:44

1 Answer 1


Here's an example of the type of computer this is probably talking about:

Altair 680 computer

Altair 8800 computer

As you can see, the computer inputs are a series of toggle switches.

So, while we now "type in" information, at that point, you'd have to "toggle in" information.

  • You're quite right, of course. But I suspect that at the time people were using such machines, they probably didn't normally talk about toggling in the code/data (more likely they'd just set it [up] or perhaps input it). So it's not really an established usage - OP's source is being slightly creative, to succinctly convey the clunky nature of early "User Interfaces". May 31, 2015 at 16:39
  • Hehe...This question belongs on SO. :}
    – M.A.R.
    May 31, 2015 at 16:43
  • My first job out of college was writing flight simulation code on a PDP11 and while we did have the luxury of punch cards for our normal input method you could still halt the machine and switch in a patch and then continue execution.
    – Jim
    May 31, 2015 at 17:07
  • @FumbleFingers I heard "toggle in" back when people still entered bootstrap loaders via front panels, and it appears in books and magazines from that era.
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 31, 2015 at 20:06
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers The Altair pictured is late to the game. "Toggling in" was in use years before. Essentially, eight 'toggle' switches would control a byte. Set them in a binary pattern and flip a ninth switch and the byte value would be set. Flip a tenth switch to increment the address or set a second group of switches to set the address, and "toggle in" the next byte. This was primarily for patching memory that was set initially via punch cards or strips of paper tape. We did it on an IBM 1401 long before Altairs and similar could exist. It beat fixing cards, reloading and rerunning. Jun 1, 2015 at 3:25

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