What Not To Say

Sometimes, what you don't say is as important as what you do say.

Sometimes, what you don't say is as important as what you do say.

I generally believe that things work better when I focus on what I want rather than what I don’t want. It’s part of having a glass half full mentality, and helps me to keep an open mind about the future. While this strategy serves me well, I have learned to appreciate the value of sometimes focusing on what isn’t wanted. Specifically, I mean focusing on words that I really don’t want to use.

When I started my first job in Phoenix, my boss informed me that she had a list of words that no one could use in a status report. She laughed as she told me that I would have to discover her forbidden word list the hard way. I started keeping a list of her forbidden words in a file I called my anti-dictionary. In creating style guides for my writing projects and clients since then, I’ve been forthcoming about words to avoid, and I’ve always included a list of acceptable substitute words with the project’s anti-dictionary.

In today’s New York Times, David Pogue writes his anti-dictionary for technology terms. While I agree with his strategy for using the best and shortest word for each situation, I do take exception with a few of his comments. My exceptions and comments include:

  • Content. There are times in my role as a content developer that I need to use this term. Generally, I agree that we should avoid using it with the user audience (and our clients) when there is more specific word we could use instead.
  • Dialog. According to the Microsoft Manual of Style, “dialog box” is exactly what we should call that screen feature.
  • Display. I use “display” in instructions to describe the effect of the user’s action, such as “[Application name] displays the xxx screen.” I’ve tried to find a different word, but end up back with display. It fits within the Microsoft Manual of Style as well.
  • Enable. I don’t’ use this word, but I take exception to his dig at the industry.
  • Functionality. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up when someone uses this word in my presence.
  • Price point. This term comes from the retail industry, and like all jargon, there are times when we should use it.
  • URL. I use “web address (URL)” the first time I talk about any URL in a manual, but not to introduce the term for future use. I include URL in the index for each occurrence of “web address.”

What do you think of David’s list? Do you agree with my comments? What additional words do you keep on your own anti-dictionary?

About author:

Charlene is the information strategist behind Crow Information Design.

Leave a Reply

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy. Comments from first time participants are moderated.

CommentLuv badge

Have a blog? Allow CommentLuv to add your last blog post to your comment.

Sorry, you can't to browse this website.

Because you are using an outdated version of MS Internet Explorer. For a better experience using websites, please upgrade to a modern web browser.

Mozilla Firefox Microsoft Internet Explorer Apple Safari Google Chrome