Anthropomorphic Phrases

Subject: Anthropomorphic Phrases
From: Iain Harrison <iharrison -at- SCT -dot- CO -dot- UK>
Date: Thu, 7 Aug 1997 12:09:48 GMT

Recently I was explaining how to use wild card characters when
conducting a search in a database when I wrote "When you enter a word
or phrase in one of the fields, the system will search for exact
matches." What is wrong with this phrase. It sort of gives the system
a personality then, but what makes that a bad thing?

In my opinion, this is not anthropomorphic at all. You're not saying
'the system will be happy' or 'this makes the computer feel useful'.

To use the phrase 'the system' implies that there may or may not be
more than one processor or unit involved. It doesn't imply that it is
a furry friend, or that it has a personality.

I'm not convinced that anthropomorphism is wrong in itself. Clearly,
there are many contexts where it is inappropriate, but once again, it
breaking the established rules is what can make for outstanding
documentation. You can make users feel more comfortable, and give them
a way to identify with what could appear a hostile machine.

OTOH, Microsoft's 'My Computer' irritates me intensely: it is not my
computer, it belongs to my employer (or the shareholders, I suppose).
If it were mine, I would find the description patronising. My computer
at home has some other text attached to that icon!

I do, however, think that there is something seriously wrong with the
phrase: it is in the future tense. WHEN will the system search? Next
week? When it is rebooted? Soon? Straight away?

I would write ' of the fields, the system searches for...',
unless it really is an event that runs at some time later (for example
in an overnight batch process)

Iain Harrison
iharrison -at- sct -dot- co -dot- uk
iain -at- hairydog -dot- clara -dot- net

TECHWR-L (Technical Communication) List Information: To send a message
to 2500+ readers, e-mail to TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU -dot- Send commands
Search the archives at or search and
browse the archives at

Previous by Author: Relative paths in Word
Next by Author: Re: Ellipsis button - what is it called?
Previous by Thread: Re: Anthropomorphic Phrases
Next by Thread: Re: Anthropomorphic Phrases

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

Sponsored Ads