When the thesaurus attacks...

Subject: When the thesaurus attacks...
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2001 09:05:46 -0500

Michelle Rassmussen wonders about a colleague's prose: <<She wrote: "From
the piece of electronic equipment, INVOKE the software program." I would
have gone with "run" or "open" because "invoke," as I explained to her,
makes me think of pasty-faced Satanic teens... Later on, she told the user
to RELOCATE a window to an undisplayed area. Wouldn't "move" be okay?>>

Your colleague certainly used both words correctly, and in particular, is
correct that "invoke" doesn't automatically invoke <g> the connotation you
implied; in fact, that would be a rather rare interpretation of the word,
even for those of us who sometimes feel that computers operate following the
principles of black magic, not logic or physics. Nonetheless, you still have
a good point about the preferred word choice because nowadays, unpleasant
though this may be to those of us who love words, we have to assume that our
audience is (on average) far less literate than we are. Furthermore,
consistency is an important aspect of any technical communication: Where you
introduce a variation on a concept (run vs. invoke), the reader quite
properly wonders "how is this particular instance different from all the
others?" I'd be willing to bet that most of the other text follows along the
lines of "run the program, move the window". In my experience, you usually
_invoke_ a method or a subroutine, but _run_ or _start_ the larger program
that uses the method or subroutine. All these points considered, I suspect
there's a strong argument for using "run" and "move" instead of "invoke" and

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"When ideas fail, words come in very handy."--Goethe


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