What is a fold?

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Joined: Sun Jun 17, 2012 11:03 am

What is a fold?

Post by origamidennis » Sun Jun 17, 2012 2:38 pm

This is something I wrote a couple of years ago, but this is the ideal place to discuss it properly.

Some time ago, I was amusing some work colleagues with various little gems of origami. Being of a problem-finding, puzzle-solving type of environment, one of them actually asked, “Can you fold something that can’t be unfolded?” So, of course, I folded Ed Sullivan’s Un-unfoldable box and asked him to try to unfold it.
After various unsuccessful attempts he admitted that it was unfoldable. However another colleague then asked me, “Can YOU unfold it?”. So I took the box and turned it all inside out. From that point, unfolding it is trivial.
“Yes, well…” said the original questioner, “THAT’S not really a fold though, is it?”
And I had to admit that he had a point. I might try to call it a colour-change or an outside reverse, but the fact remains that from a non-jargon point of view, it isn’t actually a fold. I also realised that to most people, the move that makes it unlockable in the first place i.e. pulling out the paper as you lift the corner, would also probably class as “not really a fold”.

Which then got me thinking, “What IS a fold?” or at least “What do paperfolders and non-paperfolders regard as a fold and what is the difference?”

We paperfolders are actually pretty lax in using the term that completely defines our hobby! If we can persuade paper to do it, we call it a fold. There are the normal movements, all of which we call a fold (reverse fold, twist fold etc.); we call any sequence of folds a ‘fold’ as in “That was a satisfying fold”; and then we call the finished model a fold!! It’s like a sculptor calling everything a ‘chip’. I really can’t imagine anyone saying that Michelangelo’s David was a pretty neat chip. Or saying that Mount Rushmore was a very long chip.

You may argue that many people refer to the finished item as a model. You’d be right, but then the term ‘model’ could be applied to anything that is a representation of a real-life item or even a concept. It’s not a specific term for a piece of folded paper. A sculpture could easily be referred to as a model.

I have heard references to ‘an origami’, as in “That’s a very pretty origami” but somehow, for me, the word ‘origami’ doesn’t work like that.

But back to my original point, what is a fold? If we restrict our definition of a fold to mountain or valley fold (similar to pureland), then many of the moves we call a ‘fold’ are in fact a collapse of a collection of partial folds, like a small crease pattern.

I’m aware that this is slightly anti-climactic, because I don’t have any real alternative suggestions for this. This is mainly because:-
a) The terminology is pretty ingrained. Everyone knows it and any change would (rightly) be vehemently resisted, and
b) I can’t think of anything better anyway!

But it just struck me as odd that as paperfolders, our definition of a fold is actually LESS strict than would be used by a non-paperfolders!

Edwin Corrie
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Joined: Tue Dec 06, 2011 11:40 am

Re: What is a fold?

Post by Edwin Corrie » Fri Jun 22, 2012 12:26 pm

This is an interesting subject. Here are just a few random thoughts to continue the discussion:

It's true that the word "fold" is not always used very precisely, even by origami people who (as you rightly suggest) should know better. Usage is not really fixed, and dictionary definitions vary and are not always helpful.

In origami a "fold" is sometimes a "crease", sometimes a "move" (petal fold, swivel fold) and sometimes the finished "model". Some people don't like the word "model", especially for abstract or non-representational origami, which is perhaps why "fold" is convenient. You can also call the end result a "design". (Similarly, some magicians dislike the word "trick" because they say it trivializes what they do; Uncle Joe does "tricks" at parties to entertain the children, but a professional magician does "routines" or "performance pieces". But like "model", the word "trick" is convenient and is understood by all.)

It would be interesting to make a comparison with the terms used in other languages. Certainly in French, German, Spanish and Italian the terms "modèle", "Modell", "modello" and "modelo" are commonly used among folders, and I don't think the words corresponding to "fold" in any of these languages can be used to refer to finished "folds" or models. I believe that in Japanese you can say "orikata" (meaning "something that has been folded") or possibly even "origami" to mean the finished model.

Are "to fold" and "to crease" always the same? Making a fold and making a crease (noun) are surely more or less the same. We tend to say "folding sequence" but "crease pattern", suggesting that "fold" is more about the process and "crease" is more about the result, though I'm not sure the distinction is always made. In German there are several verbs that can be used to mean "fold" or "crease" (see for example http://www.dict.cc/?s=fold and http://www.dict.cc/?s=crease).

Ed Sullivan's "Un-Unfoldable Box" can be "undone" but not really "unfolded" – probably because the thing that makes it "un-unfoldable" is a "move" rather than a "fold" in the first place (like the final "pulling-out move" in the traditional Chinese Junk or Gondola).

I'm a technical translator and work with terminology all the time, and can confirm that it's hard to make people use words correctly and consistently all the time. Even in science and engineering there is a lot of imprecise usage, and it's always important to consider the context in which words are being used.

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