Re: Style question: "war dial" vs. "wardial" vs. "war-dial"

Subject: Re: Style question: "war dial" vs. "wardial" vs. "war-dial"
From: Isaac Rabinovitch <isaacr -at- mailsnare -dot- net>
To: techwr-l
Date: Tue, 03 Feb 2004 09:45:57 -0800

Rachael Lininger wrote:

I need to write a report on war dialing and I'm not sure what to call it.

Is there a standard usage, or should I just pick one?

Authorities differ on "standard" usage for "formal" English, never mind slang words like "war dialing". For what it's worth the word comes from a movie titled "WarGames". That's right, no space, capital G -- obviously chosen to *not* look "correct"!

I suggest picking a usage that suits you (mine would be two words, capitalized, no hyphen). If your readers are sticky about "correct" usage, add a footnote about the word's origins and informal history. Better yet, use descriptive language instead of hacker jargon: it's a brute-force exhaustive number search. Or you can say "dictionary attack" which is a little confusing (the term originally referred to a specific kind of password cracking, but now refers to any kind of exhaustive attack), but more descriptive than "war dialing". You'll want to mention that this kind of attack is often called "war dialing", but it doesn't have to be your "official" term.

If my fixation with anti-correctness seems a bit much, take a look at the last two syllables in my last name. "-ovitch" is a *very* common name ending in Slavic languages (roughly equivalent to English "-son"), so you'd think there'd be a standard way to spell it. Well, there is in Russian, but there are different notions as to the "correct" way to map Cyrillic into Latin characters. In this case the vowels are not a problem, but there are two consonants that cause grief. The first one is pronounced like an English V, but it's also like a German W, and a lot of authorities insist that you *have* to use German orthography when Latinizing Cyrillic, The second consonant is even worse: it looks like an upside-down "h", and has no exact equivalent in English *or* German.

My grandfather Latinized his name as "Rabinovich", but my father decided that "Rabinovitch" made more sense. Often when I submit my name somewhere it gets "corrected" to "Rabinowitz" or something similar. And just to make my life more interesting, we don't use the most common pronunciation!

Does this all seem very trivial and offtopic? Guess again. There's a wonderful book called "The Thread" (can't remember the author) which mentions how the author wrote a biography of a famous Jewish-Lithuanian mathematician. Most of the people who wrote in about the book commented, not on its contents, but to "correct" the authors Latinization of names!

Language is convention. "Correctness" just means adherence to some particular social group's convention. There is no one correct way to use language.

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