Re: What do you call this?

Subject: Re: What do you call this?
From: "Cepek, Marta" <marta -at- M3ISYSTEMS -dot- QC -dot- CA>
Date: Wed, 10 May 1995 17:49:24 -0400

>Avoid the fancy name, if there is one. I have been
>completely perplexed by instructions for a telephone
>that told me to press the octothorpe button.

>Or have you ever been told to enter a virgule?

>Octothorpe =3D pound key (#)
>Virgule =3D forward slask (/)
>Doug Fettig
>fettig -at- ifu -dot- net

Your message prompted me to look "virgule" up in the dictionary. In French,=
"virgule" means "comma", so if I was instructed to enter a virgule, I'd=20
probably type the wrong character. (I'm an Anglo in Quebec, so I suppose=20
this mis-interpretation would be more common here.) In any case, when=20
instructions give the word for the symbol, like "tilde", say, I think they=
should *also* indicate the character in brackets, like (~).=20

But I agree with you completely, as tech writers needing to communicate=20
clearly, we should avoid the nine-dollar words for the ones the reader is=20
more likely to already know (or won't be confused by). A few years ago, I=
didn't know that your "octothorpe" symbol (#) was also called the "pound=20
sign" (I always called it a "hash sign"). I wondered why it was called=20
that, and now I have a conjecture that it might be because on the British=20
keyboard, the <shift-3> character is in fact the "=A3" symbol for British=20
stirling pound. On our US-layout keyboards, <shift-3> is the "#" symbol (I=
still prefer calling it a hash).

On a tangent to this, I was thinking it might be an interesting new thread=
if we shared anecdotes about readers' mis-interpretation of our writing. =20
I'll give an example of one I had. When closing or quitting an application,=
the software I was documenting presented the user with an "Are You Done?"=20
dialog box. My text explained that "... this is to prevent the user from=20
accidentally exiting the program." Someone came back to me objecting about=
the use of the word "accidentally" in the sentence, since [apparently] most=
people associate an "accident" with some sort of physical catastrophe, like=
the screen exploding, or [worse] corrupting the system or something. I felt=
it was a bit of a ridiculous assumption to make, but nonetheless replaced=20
"accidentally" with "inadvertently" (which satisfied the other person). =20
Frankly, I think that anyone who would have a problem with "accidentally"=20
would probably be running for the dictionary if they read "inadvertently". =
In the end, I think I settled for "unintentionally" (still high-falutin',=20
but better). Still, this silly little incident has given me pause for=20
thought every now and then, especially when I wonder if something I've=20
written might not be read in the way I wrote it.

Does anyone else have any anecdotes about people seriously mis-reading=20
something that should have been pretty clear?


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