Re: Help: "Increment" as verb

Subject: Re: Help: "Increment" as verb
From: Ben Kovitz <bkovitz -at- IGS -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 1995 16:36:00 PST

Connie E. Winch <cew -at- macola -dot- usa -dot- com> wrote:

> I'm editing one of our manuals and have come across "increment" used as a
> verb. According to my American Heritage Dictionary, it's not a verb.
> However, I'm having a hard time thinking of a replacement. Any
> suggestions? It would be used in a sentence like this: "The software
> package automatically increments the transaction ID number after each
> entry."

"Increment" as a verb has a long and venerable history in the world of
computers, where it refers to a very specific action that is among the
most commonly performed by a computer--well, long and venerable by the
standards of the computer industry, anyway.

The American Heritage Dictionary is behind the times on this one, or
at least they aren't trying to cover computer terminology. The verb sense
of "increment" is really one that we cannot do without in computers.
No one reading a manual for a transaction-processing package will
think you illiterate for using it, especially in examples such as your
sentence above.

Where "increment" as a verb is incorrect is in places where some form
of "increase" is required, such as increasing the amount of time
allotted to write a manual, or increasing your monthly income. Those
are cases where there is a real (non-abstract) quantity to be increased,
and especially cases where it is at least possible to increase the
quantity continuously (not just in discrete units, but by a half a unit,
a tenth of a unit, etc.).

"Increment" in the verb sense denotes an increase of something by
a minimum discrete unit, and in its special sense in computers denotes
increasing not a physical or real quantity, but something in the
computer, such as a variable in memory or a field stored on disk,
that *represents* a number but is not a number or quantity itself,
by the minimum amount (1) or, in some special cases, a very small
amount. For example, all modern-day machine languages contain an
instruction called "increment" (an example of the large amount of
precedent this usage has), that, when executed, causes the computer to
switch the pattern of bits stored in a byte (or other small section of
memory) to a new pattern, which customarily represents a number one
greater than the original pattern. Incrementing an ID number--which
is anything but a physical or continuously variable quantity--is
probably one of the best possible examples of a case where "increment"
in the verb sense is required.

And I do think it is *required*. If you must have a substitute, you
can say "automatically increases the transaction ID by one", but I
think you can see how much worse that would be. It's not only wordier,
but I think it's less clear, precisely due to its vague suggestion
that transaction IDs might be continuously variable. Good tech
writing repeatedly drives home the correct set of concepts that the
reader needs to think in terms of, in every word choice and diagram
and subtlety of organization, not only in explicit statements. So it
would be a shame to miss out on the benefit that "increment" can give
you here.

Previous by Author: Re: Gender-specific language (was: your mail)
Next by Author: Freelance Telecom Analysts Needed
Previous by Thread: Re: Help: "Increment" as verb
Next by Thread: Re: Help: "Increment" as verb

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

Sponsored Ads