unundoable would be doubleplusungood way to do ([un]do) it

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/09/10 10:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/09/10/8939491.aspx


The other day, reader Harmony7, in response to my blog Unbloggableable: an inconceivableable term that makes me a little uncomfortableable, commented:

This might be a bit off-topic, but I always thought the word "undoable" was confusing.

The dictionary says "undoable" means something unattainable: "An undoable plan" might mean you don't have the necessary money or people.

However, especially in the world of computers and UI, it is often used to mean something that can be undone: "An undoable edit control" might be an edit control with an undo function.

Maybe things of these sorts kind of... evolve after a while.

Now I agree completely here, Harmony7 -- this was very off-topic.

But on the other hand it is an interesting new topic, which I will say something about now

This is the interesting difference between two separate etymological paths for the same word -- undoable as either undo-able or un-doable!

Now un-doable is the one Harmony7 is thinking about in the dictionary entry.

If one can do something, it is doable.

And if one cannot do something, then we add the "un-" prefix -- calling it undoable because by being not doable, it is un-doable.

Now the UI feature is thinking of the undo feature, one is thinking about the memory a computer program has of things you had the computer do.

Especially in terms of those item(s) on that list that one can undo. Because if you can undo them then they are undoable, because they are undo-able.

The fact that the same prefix and suffix are being used is unfortunate, as there are no methods or markers to know the difference between

un((do)able)

and

((un)do)able

which, since they both spell out the same word is troublesome.,

Oh well, at least someone had the awareness in capturing the case where an action a program may do that cannot allow the undo action is described as can't undo rather than unundoable! :-)

Because unundoable would be a doubleplusungood way to refer to things!


This blog brought to you by(U+178c, aka KHMER LETTER DO)


Myria on 11 Sep 2008 11:08 AM:

I was at an HR management training session yesterday, and one of the slides had a bullet that said:

- Contract the expectations on your employees.

I had to ask the presenter whether she meant "CONtract" or "conTRACT", as they have different meanings: "CONtract" meaning "to make an agreement" or "conTRACT" meaning "to shorten".

I felt somewhat embarrassed asking this; she answered that it was CONtract, which seemed more likely anyway.

harmony7 on 12 Sep 2008 2:49 AM:

Wow, I feel super grateful that you have written an entire blog post about that little comment I posted.  One that was even "very off-topic".

Maybe while I'm at it, I'll mention something else that's sort of off-topic but still is on the topic of something being -able:  Available.

If something is available, what does that mean?  If you think about it, we use the word available to mean what should really be described as "availed".  Available, then, should really mean that the item is in a state where it CAN be availed.  Usually, though, we only care whether what we want is availed at that moment.

I'm not a native English speaker, so though over the years I have learned to live with them, they still do stand out to me.

(btw, I use a lowercase H in my handle name: harmony7.)


go to newer or older post, or back to index or month or day