Why do most modern video game controllers have A, B, X, and Y buttons instead of A, B, C, and D or some numerical pattern? It seems weirdly arbitrary. Our history begins in 1983 when the Nintendo NES controller was released, containing just a directional pad, an A button, and a B button. This was just a way of differentiating the two, which still makes sense. Then, in 1990, Nintendo released the SNES, which had a diamond-shaped pattern much like today's, and other corporations followed suit. Although the company never officially made a statement on why they did this, there are several quite convincing explanations, all of which may have played a part. For one, it's easy to distinguish between the sounds for all of the letters (not so much when you're shouting B and D excitedly). It also could have tested better in marketing or it could have been implemented to future-proof the devices in case they wanted to make a controller with six buttons that was still compatible with four-button games (if this was in alphabetical order, then there would be a frameshift that hinders gameplay). Whatever the reason, it's pretty interesting that that's what we particularly ended up with, rather than something else.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.