Re: Pet Peeves (was Re: The 'user' in User Manual)

Subject: Re: Pet Peeves (was Re: The 'user' in User Manual)
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: Karen Murri <kmurri -at- comcast -dot- net>
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 20:08:20 -0800

True, we give inanimate actors credit for being actors (as in active voice). Still, some of us find that 'allow' (another example is 'enable') seems to have a meaning that is too strong for what a computer or software can do for us (yet, if ever). I've heard a similar objection against writing 'The terminal displays', as if the verb display is a special sort of communication beyond the reach of computer monitors.

Anthropomorphism seems like a fair explanation for Mary's objection--people can allow, but a computer merely simulates allowing, by going to the next programmatic step. This is weird (in the good sense)--it is in the cause of preciseness with words, in a language with so much vocabulary that there ought to be a precise word for what computer software does that emulates but is different from what a person does, but I don't think we (English) even have a name for a sense of language (and the world) that won't allow a computer to allow. It isn't standard fare, and it isn't simply precise, or else it wouldn't seem so idiosyncratic. Would it?

Whatever. It can be adjudicated--the dictionary would support uses of allow with inanimate actors--but I don't think that would resolve anything for someone who feels a word this way.
It seems a bit savory or tantilizing, doesn't it? It reminds me of synesthesia.

--Ned "people are evens, computers are odds"

Karen Murri wrote:

Huh. I don't consider that anthropomorphic. Inanimate objects "act" all the
time. "A rolling stone gathers no moss." I can think of a long list of
examples. When an automated system completes it's programmed function, then
it is the "actor" and the function it completes is the appropriate active
verb. For simplicity, though, I do like your second sentence better.

-----Original Message-----
Mary Arrotti said

Personally, I really dislike anthropomorphic writing. 1) Do this and the system allows you to do that.
2) Do this and you can do that.
There are instances (#1) where avoiding this type of writing makes for
better clarity (#2). But sometimes it's clearer - for my audience - if I
write something like "the system imports XYZ data." So, I do it. I still
don't like it but that's what makes it *my* pet peeve.


Create HTML or Microsoft Word content and convert to Help file formats or printed documentation. Features include single source authoring, team authoring,
Web-based technology, and PDF output.

Now shipping: Help &amp; Manual 4 with RoboHelp(r) import! New editor,
full Unicode support. Create help files, web-based help and PDF in up
to 106 languages with Help &amp; Manual:

You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- infoinfocus -dot- com -dot-
To unsubscribe send a blank email to techwr-l-unsubscribe -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
or visit

To subscribe, send a blank email to techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to admin -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

RE: Pet Peeves (was Re: The 'user' in User Manual): From: Karen Murri

Previous by Author: Re: QA plan help
Next by Author: Re: Need a word!
Previous by Thread: RE: Pet Peeves (was Re: The 'user' in User Manual)
Next by Thread: RE: The 'user' in User Manual

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads