Re: Alternative to typo?

Subject: Re: Alternative to typo?
From: Geoff Lane <geoff -at- gjctech -dot- co -dot- uk>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2009 15:56:32 +0000

On Friday, March 27, 2009, Milan Davidovic wrote;

>> In the sentence, "An error may render the unit unresponsive.", "may"
>> is ambiguous. Although it expresses probability, it can mean that the
>> error has permission to render the unit unresponsive.

> I was wondering if someone would bring that up -- is that reading even
> plausible?

I believe so if, for example, the unit was programmed to shut down in
the event of receiving an improperly formatted command. Although this
is an unlikely interpretation, particularly for native speakers of
English, it is plausible and might cause an issue for translators.

>> Also, "may" and "might" are sometimes taken to express different
>> levels of probability, with "may" expressing a higher probability
>> than "might".

> Again, is that a plausible reading? And if so, what does it risk?

This is more tricky and I think it's a case of knowing your audience
since the distinction is missing in some audiences and might even be
reversed in others. That's why I wrote "sometimes". There is little
distinction where I live, but I've seen claims from other areas that
the distinction exists with some even assigning percentages.

FWIW, my personal rule is to use "might" to express possibility and
"may" to express permission (unless the style guide says otherwise).
However, when peer-reviewing someone else's copy, I'll accept either
in the context of expressing something to be possible.

There's a third member of the trilogy: "can". Where I live, the three
might be used synonymously. For example, "A typo can render the unit
inoperable." is acceptable colloquially even though it's not correct
in formal English. This is another reason why I make the distinction:
"May" expresses permission, "might" expresses possiblity, and "can"
expresses physical ability.

HTH,

--
Geoff

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Follow-Ups:

References:
alternative to typo: From: Joel
Alternative to typo?: From: Geoff Hart
Re: Alternative to typo?: From: Milan Davidovic
RE: Alternative to typo?: From: Dan Goldstein
Re: Alternative to typo?: From: Milan Davidovic
Re: Alternative to typo?: From: Geoff Lane
Re: Alternative to typo?: From: Milan Davidovic

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