The Pedant

The Pedant

By Mike Toms

Overload, 1(2):, June 1993

The Wonder of Words

"Increment" and "decrement" are things you do to counters in programs, right? Wrong! The Oxford English Dictionary defines these words as nouns, not verbs; they mean an increase or decrease, or the amount by which something is increased or decreased ("increase-ment" and "decrease-ment", as it were).

Did You Know?

Included with Windows 3.1 is a diagnostics program MSD.EXE that tells you all about your PC's configuration! The program runs from the DOS command line.

The Wonder of Words

Latin words are often used in scientific and technical writing to refer to particular concepts or make distinctions more concisely than is possible using English alone. Over time, usage conventions evolve, and this can give rise to a conflict between the Latin meaning and the "adopted" meaning, giving problems for writers.

Take the seemingly-harmless little word "data". The Latin word is the plural form of "datum". And although we in the computing world are happy to talk about data in a file, who would refer to a datum? We have got used to using the phrase "data item" instead. Data is now treated as a substance, and the meaning of the word has, in common usage, effectively changed from plural to singular ("The data is held in a file"). Yet for some writers, the plural meaning remains ("The data are held in a file").

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