We Regret to Inform You That The Spinning “Loading” Icon Is Actually Called a “Throbber”

On the internet, anything can be called anything.

A site can be called "Twitter" for more than a decade and then suddenly have its name changed to "X," e-commerce platforms can have entirely made-up names like "Grailed" and "Depop," and an everyday icon that we generally take for granted can have a name that makes it sound like some sort of sex toy.

It's with that horrible reality in mind that we regretfully inform you that the spinning "loading" icon we all know and hate is officially called the "throbber," which must be the worst weirdly-sexual-sounding name for a tech thing since the "dongle."

Indeed, as PC Mag's encyclopedia so helpfully defines, the throbber is an "animated icon that notifies the user that an operation is taking place in the background, such as when an application is loading or a Web page is downloading."

"Typically a spinning ball, logo or bar," the definition reads, "throbbers are often animated GIF or AVI files."

Recently, people on the site formerly known as Twitter discovered the unfortunate name of what we'd all been referring to as some variation of the "loading icon" in our heads for decades, taking it about as well as you'd expect.


"I've worked in software development and the corresponding graphics/UX space for over a decade," one user posted, "and I have never called these throbbers nor heard anyone else call them a throbber."

"If your throbber lasts more than 4 hours," another quipped, "you should probably call IT."

One developer, meanwhile, seems to have something of a timeline for the term's etymology.

"At [M]ozilla everyone called it a throbber," they wrote, "but by the time [I] was creating and maintaining a design system, people *hated* that name, so we ended up calling it a spinner instead."

Providing a bit more context, the developer, who goes by the moniker Kourge, added that this "was also in the era when 'chrome' meant 'the browser’s user interface' (contrasting 'content') instead of 'browser made by google.'"

While the gradiented grey or black throbbers are the ones we're used to, there are lots of varieties to choose from that change the standard icon's color, speed, and even direction.

So ingrained is the concept behind the throbber that a group of Japanese researchers who study computer-human interactions published a paper about how differing throbber speeds affect users' perception of time.

"We investigated how the components of throbbers (e.g., presented durations, rotational velocities, and size) affected users’ perception of waiting time," the researchers from Meiji University wrote in their paper, which was presented at a 2020 conference. "As a result, we observed that the participants felt that throbbers with a slower rotational velocity had a shorter duration regardless of size when the presented duration was rather short, like 5 seconds."

Symbols, as anyone who's read or watched "The Da Vinci Code" recalls, are meant to convey information — and the throbber is no different from the wifi logo or the dollar sign in the breadth of messaging it contains.

Those symbols, however, never had such pervy-sounding names.

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