Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Plain English

Everyone has their pet hates. It might be an annoying personal habit, anonymous callers or Paris Hilton. One of mine is the use of geek English in software. Aside from being a barrier to new users, it also undermines an application's status as a high quality piece of software, software that a contributor can be proud of. A few words quite widely seen in KDE circles that I find irritating are "Configure", "Initialize" and "Schema". Configure' and 'Configuration' are bad in particular because:
  • It is a longer and less commonly used word than the shorter alternatives ("Edit","Settings"). This appears to be true of translations into various European languages as well. I have a hypothesis that shorter, more commonly used words are quicker for us to parse when reading user interface elements and enable us to make decisions more rapidly, thereby saving time.

  • It is an unpleasant sounding word. This might sound odd, but I feel that the choice of words or phrases contributes to how polished and attractive an application is.

Obvious suggested replacements:

  • Configure -> Edit, Settings, Preferences

  • Configuration -> Setup, Settings

  • Intialize -> Start, Starting, Loading

As an example, on startup KNetworkManager displays some progress information when connecting to a wireless station. The labels go something like this:

"Activation stage: Preparing device"
"IP configuration started"
"Commit IP configuration"
"Device activated"

Good grief. The only information I really needed to know is:

"Preparing"
"Connecting"
"Connected"

A week or so ago I became sufficiently frustrated that I went and patched the most visible uses of these words out of KDE's libraries and Konqueror's various settings dialogs. Patches as always:

kdelibs patch
konqueror patch

Incidentally, the reason this is being posted here and not initially to the KDE development mailing lists is to inspire users to complain more about the use of overly technical and/or geeky language in their applications.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,

very good catch. I'm using the german translation and it's often better than your english examples. But I hope german translation will improve through better english.

But what I don't like in your patch, is "Windows (SMB) file systems settings". Most computer user don't know what a file system is. So I suggest something like "Windows network settings" or "Windows connectivity settings". But I think it's also not very intuitive.

Cheers Tom

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is a good point, but when bad things happens there will be some log in when check what happen. For example, in your example, if the connection with the AP fail because some problem in the IP configure stage I want to know that! not only Connected fail! or something like that

Robert Knight said...

> but when bad things
> happens there will be some
> log in when check what happen.

Of course. In that case one typically-used option is to display a 'Technical details' label which when clicked on opens up a section with more technical information, including a link to a more detailed log if appropriate. KDE already has such a dialog.

Given that troubleshooting is usually done in forums or over IRC with the help of community members, some facility to share the details of a failure with people who have a deeper understanding would be handy as well.

Ian said...

>Configure -> Edit, Settings,
>Preferences

In that list, only edit is a verb. Settings or preferences can't be used as a replacement for configure.

I actually just looked it up the words in the OED. I always find it interesting that words which came over from the Norman invasion or otherwise have Romantic roots are still more seen as more formal, (its been like a thousand years, you'd think we'd get over it!)

And indeed, configure comes from Latin, where as "set" comes from stuff like Old High German and Old Frisian.

JSinger said...

I confess that when I maintained the Konsole documentation, I had no idea why the color setting was called "Schema". But there were many more pressing problems than that (the difference between "Console" and "Linux Console", for example) and I figured anyone who clicked on it would quickly realize what "black on yellow" meant.

Jason Stubbs said...

I'd like to throw in that "edit" is also a geeky word. From dictionary.com:

1. to supervise or direct the preparation of (a newspaper, magazine, book, etc.); serve as editor of; direct the editorial policies of.
2. to collect, prepare, and arrange (materials) for publication.
3. to revise or correct, as a manuscript.
...
8. Computers. to modify or add to (data or text).


Looking at your patches, I'd suggest that using "change" instead of "edit" would be more natural.

chani said...

ian: yeah, they're not verbs, but maybe "configure foo" could be changed to "foo settings" or something... I dunno... then again, since the menu itself is called "settings", that could get really really repetitive :)

Diederik said...

It's great to see this kind of attention to details! :-)

Funny to mention, the Dutch translations use the phrase "{something} instellen...", which also looks much better.

The word 'instellen' means something like 'finetune', 'adjust', or 'calibrate'. In the Dutch Windows XP, settings are often called "Opties..." (Options...) btw.

I would love to see the ellipsis at the end of the menu items though to indicate it will open a new dialog (or did I miss some exception in the HIG?)

Robert Knight said...

> I would love to see the
> ellipsis at the end of the
> menu items though to indicate
> it will open a new dialog

As far as I am aware, any menu item which opens a dialog that requires input from the user should have an ellipsis at the end.

If there are menu items that should have an ellipsis, but don't, please help us by filing a bug report.

If there are a lot of missing ellipses then that might be a translation issue - in which case try changing the language temporarily and see if it makes a difference. I'd be surprised though given the healthy number of Dutch contributors KDE has.

Alan Horkan said...

The phrase "and/or" is overly technical jargon. In English 'or' means one or the other or both and although it may be pedantic of mee to point it out is pedantic and redundant to write "and/or". Also the slash also represents 'or' adding to the redundancy. That and writing TODO as a single word outside of code are probably two of the most common jargon mistakes programmers make in their writing.


You are unlikely to see it in a user interface, you might see it in documentation occasionally but while we were on the subject of good English now was as good a time as any to mention it.

Some day somehow I'll run GNU Style and Diction on the documentation to show just how poor the quality of English unfortunately is (yet so much better than Wikipedia will ever be without a built in spellchecker. It is an offense to the English language and worst engineering practice ever to fail to automate spell check).


If you talk to translators you can get a great insight into poor choices of English words. Acronyms are awful in any language, and I vaguely recall being told the Dutch translation of KDE had to use something alongh the lines of "URL Address" which goes to show the English should have been something like Address or Link or Shortcut or Bookmark. Acronyms are awful.

Great to see this kind of attention to detail. There may be a few trolls who complain about dumbing down but there is a right time and place for these kinds of details and most people don't need or want to know. Keep up the good work.

divide said...

I'd argue against throwing away „and/or” without good reason. It has the advantage of being very clear -- that „or” can mean any of those -- or both -- is exactly the reason why the „and/or” expression is useful.

It might be reduntant or pedantic, but sometimes it just replaces a lot of explaining. Also, I don't know about English, but it isn't perceived as technical in Polish language -- maybe sometimes overly formal, yes, but, as said before, sometimes it's better than the alternative or outright ambigousness.

OnlinePharmacy said...

wTZsFT Your blog is great. Articles is interesting!

uk viagra sales said...

JGyZZq Please write anything else!

meridia rankings said...

Thanks to author.

cupertino motels said...

Please write anything else!

name said...

Thanks to author.

boston university campus tour said...

Wonderful blog.

alaska helicoptor tours said...

Magnific!

Anonymous said...

credit card american express

Anonymous said...

visa platinum card

Anonymous said...

I always use by this site pay best buy credit card. Credit Cards are available, easy, quick and without troubles.

Anonymous said...

c-cards.wikidot.com

Anonymous said...

payloan.wikidot.com
loanspay.wikidot.com
mepaydayloan.wikidot.com
thepayday.wikidot.com
the-paydloan.wikidot.com
payfast-cash.wikidot.com
payday-cash.wikidot.com
paydayfree.wikidot.com
paydayhelp.wikidot.com
pay-day-loans.wikidot.com
thepay-loan.wikidot.com
the-payday.wikidot.com
quick.wikidot.com

Anonymous said...

I always use by this site. payday fast cash. Loans are quick drawing up and low interest. Qualitatively. If you need a help? The professional help!

Anonymous said...

If you need guaranteed and professional help the best way is use by this site cash payday loan. A poor credit rating or debt history is initially not a problem. Quick and easy loan in drawing up and low interest.

Anonymous said...

The best in the world. I always use by this site. no fax payday loan. Loans are quick drawing up and low interest.

Anonymous said...

Have a financial emergency? Bad credit? No credit? Other financial problems? You will find help on this site online faxless payday loans. Quick and easy loan in drawing up and low interest.

Anonymous said...

If you need a help. The professional help! Quickly and easily! Not dearly and qualitatively! click here

payday loan
payday loan fast
quik payday loan
no fax payday loan
cash advance payday loan
instant payday loan
payday instant loan
faxless payday loan
faxless instant payday loan
payday no fax loan
nevada pl
payday loan no fax
no fax loan payday
nevada payday loan no fax
payday loan instant
faxless payday loan instant
western payday
instant faxless payday loan
instant payday loan online
loan instant
payday online
payday us
loan us
instant us payday
us loan
payday loan faxless
payday no fax loan
united states payday loan
payday online loan
payday loans no bank accont
internet payday loan
cards credit
gift credit cards
city credit cards
payday loan internet
online credit cards
credit cards online
online credit card
payday loan no credit check faxless
payday loans no fax credit
no fax payday us
online loan payday no fax
credit cards online accept
american express credit cards
faxless payday advance
credit cards american express
credit card american express
student american express
prepaid credit card
fast 24 hour payday loans
fast faxless payday loans
fast faxless payday loan
credit cards visa
fast money online payday loan
visa platinum card
fast payday loan no credit
fax bank account payday loan
visa card platinum
approval payday loan
visa signature card
fax loan no payday quick money
fax needed payday loan
faxing cash advance payday
faxing loan no payday savings
signature visa credit card
faxless no call payday advance
quick cash payday loan
pay best buy credit card
quick easy payday loan credit
quick payday settlement
account best buy credit card
online payday no faxing credit
online payday loans cash now
no fax payday cash advance
payday advance no checking
payday online advance fast
prepaid credit card
payday paycheck loan credit
discover student card
payday fast cash
payday instant advance
payday loan business credit
payday loans fax bank account
payday lending faxless
payday cash loan now
no fax cash payday loan
gold master card
payday loan savings account
no fax payday loans
fast payday loan no faxing
payday cash loan usa
cancer insurance
health insurance cancer

Loans are quick drawing up and low interest.

Anonymous said...

e you
poker promotion
asino Listings
If a player plays any of these games with any bonus offer, all money generated will be forfeited! Only one no deposit promotion allowed, prior to initial ...
www.acmecasinos.com/ - 9k - Kopia - Podobne strony free poker money
Dream Bingo | £5 no Deposit Bonus at Dream | Bingo Times Review -
A full review of Dream Bingo one of the UK's up-and-coming online bingo sites.
www.bingotimes.com/dream-bingo.php - 18k - Kopia - Podobne strony
Asus launches Eee PC 1008HA ultra-thin netbook - love you
3 Mar 2009 ... All bonus casino code, free annual ofah conservation lottery no deposit casino, redeem coupon 2008, casino coupons, online casino bonuses no ...
www.liliputing.com - Kopia - Podobne strony free poker money
No Deposit Poker Bonus .NET - Get Free Poker Bankrolls and Free ... -
Get Free Poker Bankrolls with No Deposit Poker Bonus Codes.Win real cash with No Deposit Poker Bankrolls. We help You building a poker bankroll
free jnhon . Pop jutmjrz bonus no deposit free poker money love you
be deposited into your account it can take up to 72 hrs for your bonus to appear
online poker no deposit neededfree omaha or titan sit and go tour Superior Casino No Deposit Bonus, $25 love you
poker mode poker texas ker Room poker Art Room hole holy bonus deponation free nothing interestant poker
free cash poker moneyThis full tilt platform $50 online gambling mansion For good poker players, deposit bonuses just add to their
Poker Room poker Art love you Room hole holy bonus deponation free nothing love you interestant poker
bonus no deposit required $50 onlineThis collection from love you Senglea Studios has been released online and is ready to adorn any
unique poker titan Free poker money - no deposit poker bonuses allow you to play
poker bonuses no depsoit req online gambling free $150 bonus no deposit
you free bonuses no deposit poker bonus - play free casino games win real cash
tour Universal Music poker pokernetonline love you
money free no risk capital of pokerNo Deposit Bonus Forums Statistics. Threads love you
startegy big of bonuses receive no deposit bonus you have to
Dy promotion poker online cash nodeposit titan sit and go tour bez depozytu za darmo poker za darmowy
promocyjna gra pod górą
List of no deposit bonus from trust sponsorship and biggest poker portal for international poker players.
pokerową tekst pokera musi być unikalny no deposit bonuses pokermania bez pieniędzy wkładu to sobie można darmowy poker no deposit zawsze i wszędzie poker promo's gry karciane w Limit Hold’em przez titan Poker , W ciągu następnych mansion party fulltilt vc poker absolute poker stars bankrollmob
online poker bonusno risk deposit without needed pkr poker or cdpoker
No Deposit Casino Bonus :: Lucky Emperor Casino
Get a No Deposit Casino Bonus at Lucky Emperor Casino. Play casino games like Blackjack, Roulette, Slots, Craps, and Video Poker for fun or with real money ...
www.luckyemperorcasino.com/ - 14k - Kopia - Podobne strony
Online C86 La free list przebojów maha poker portals bankroll free no bonuses deposit bonus gambling
great promotion yes save The bonus capt secur gam bling ity code free is mal ssfunc tioning and bonus no deposit reguired not visible
deposit cash to pokerroom, love you love you love you
we are giving cash only for ednim swoim singlem "Just dance"
Site include actual poker promotions and bonus no deposit required. Review poker online
hurry up No deposit casino bonuses and no deposit free play bonus (below) both offer
and get your no deposit bonus gambler promo texas holdem