Posted on 6 April 2014, in language, technical writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Interesting!
    A confession: sometimes I use a hyphen to stop the spell checker from complaining. I’ll pay more attention to the noun-verb difference.

  2. The O’Reilly style guide is a great resource for lots of technical phrases such as login. They agree with you btw. Lots of other distinctions I hadn’t considered until I read it. The link to it is in google somewhere, just like you :)

    ~Matt

  3. Thanks to Charles Miller @carlfish for pointing out the Apple Style Guide. I’ve added it to the list.

  4. I’ve always been pedantic about following the two-word verb, one-word noun “rule”. Thanks for the syllable-stress idea, which I don’t recall having heard before.
    A style guide you don’t mention, but which agrees with you very strongly, is the Microsoft Manual of Style, which spends half a page on it. “… The verb form is two words, log on or log off. As a noun or adjective, use one word: no hyphen: logon or logoff. …”

    • Hallo oldnick69

      Thanks for the reference to the Microsoft style guide. I wonder if there are any style guides that say “it doesn’t matter”, or “it doesn’t matter, provided you’re consistent”. I’ve seen people saying the former, but not in a style guide. And I don’t recall seeing people saying the latter.

      Cheers
      Sarah

  5. The Yahoo style guide also agrees: “login ( n., adj .); log in, log in to ( v.) — One word when used as a noun or an adjective. Two words when used as a verb, which may be followed by the preposition to.”

    Which brings up another “one word or two” question: do I log “In to” something or “into” it? I always want to use the former, since “log in” is a phrasal verb, but often go for the latter, perhaps to make the text less formal. Perhaps consistency matters more than the actual choice.

    • Hallo Nick

      Interesting. Like you, I’d go with “log in to” something. The style guides seem to agree with us. I’m not sure what the linguistic logic would be, but I’ll have a bash… To “log in” is a different action from to “log”. As you say, it’s a phrasal verb. That’s probably why I’m comfortable with saying “bump into” something – “bump in” isn’t (yet) an action in its own right.

      Interestingly, the stress patterns confirm this choice too.

      Cheers
      Sarah

      • Actually. Sarah, “bump in ” can be an action in its own right, in the context of events. It’s what exhibitors do when they’re starting their setup process at an exhibition, for instance. So they would definitely want to avoid “bumping into” anything during that process. :-)
        And they “bump out” at the end of the event.

      • Oh cool! Thanks Nick.

  6. Thank you, for the post, first of all. You’ve provided some great examples, Sarah. I knew the logic of the noun and adjective vs the verb; I follow the same.

    This conversation apart, I’ve observed that in a lot of cases, words like reinstall are still used with hyphens (re-install). What do you think about it? Is it one word? Is it a hyphenated word?

    • Hallo Suyog

      Ah those pesky hyphens. ;) I think there are some cases where a hyphen aids clarity, and ‘re-install’ is one of them. On the other hand, I’m happy with ‘reinstate’, probably because it’s a more common word. So I’m on the brink of being persuaded that ‘reinstall’ is fine for an audience of tech-savvy folk.

      Interestingly, if I type ‘re-install’ into a Google search, most of the top results use ‘reinstall’.

      Cheers
      Sarah

      • Oh yes, a lot of search results, and almost all of them with the shortened word (without the hyphen). My understanding is: If you are able to read the word correctly (and quickly), you can do away with the hyphen. If not, insert one! The same rule goes for the words with “non”.

  7. Kelly M. McDaniel

    There was a time when “data base” was the correct term. For that matter, “basket ball” and “base ball” started out as two words. Some of spoken language is acceptably dynamic. However, I heard an apparently well-educated gentleman say, “We’re send you to liase (or however you might spell it) with the (whoever it was).” Dadgummit, that irks me. It seems there is a penchant now for creating verbs from nouns. “Impact” is another; as in “impact the figures.” The current trend that makes me say “Oh gee whiz…” or similar phrases under my breath, is the use of unnecessarily polysyllabic, and usually downright incorrect terms. For example, “methodology,” as in “What methodology will we use?” “Method,” of course, is the correct noun. Methodology is the academic study of methods. Don’t get me started on “realtime.”

  8. Kelly, I agree re language being acceptably dynamic, but I do think that applies to written as well as spoken language. It must be many years since I saw “on line” written instead of “online”, and think that’s a good thing.
    I must admit that initially (quite some time ago) I didn’t write “website” and “webpage” as single words, but I started to do so thanks to things like common usage, simpler headings, and easier scanning of text.

  9. Interestingly, when I took you test, I found my inflection did not differ in the middle sentence of each set. I thought it would, but in fact it didn’t. I’m sure it would five years ago. It doesn’t today. Backup and login are becoming verbs.

    This may indicate the nounification takes place faster than verbification, which is mildly interesting, if true. Still, we use compounds for things that are new or seldom discussed, and we make words for things that are familiar and commonly spoken about. People like to say that language changes over time. I prefer to think of this as simply how language works all the time. It shapes itself to the subject matter of present interest, often with great speed. This is not a drift, but a necessary part of its function. Language would be cumbersome if it did not work this way.

    By the way, I don’t think tech writers are “guardians of language,” or at least they should not be. This is partially because I think “guardians of language” don’t understand how language really works (see above), but more specifically because our job is to help users get their jobs done. We should deploy language in whatever way gets the reader to act correctly. Attempting to uphold some particular form of usage, if it conflicts with achieving correct action, is contrary to our task and the thing we get paid to do. Correct action, not correct usage, is our guiding star.

  10. Just think of it this way: would you ever say, “I loginned to my dashboard yesterday”, or “I am loggingin right now”? Think of other verb forms, besides the simple present, and you will see why you use two words instead of one.

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