Language Police Squad: Disabled Users and Natural Numbers

Posted: January 26, 2011 in Language Police Squad, Other Categories
Tags: , , , , ,

Part of my day job involves making sure that the text displayed in our software is grammatically, professionally, and politically correct. For example, I spend a lot of time removing multiple instances of the word, “invalid”, since many developers seem oblivious to its dual meaning.

This morning I was personally offended by one application’s reaction to me when I tried to log in to a test deployment. It simply said, “The user is disabled”.

“I beg your pardon”, I wanted to say, even though I was pretty sure the machine wasn’t speaking to me. Or, maybe it was implying that I’m latitudinally challenged in the way that people who spend too much time in front of computers often are.

I soon realized that the machine was projecting its own issues on to me when it lost the plot completely by asking me to input “natural numbers only”. Natural? Surely, that depends on context. For example, in the following sentence:

Three strikes and you’re out.

Three is a natural number. In fact, I’m pretty sure that sentence was used in a film called “The Natural”. However, in the following sentence:

The user has three nipples.

Three is an unnatural number. In the event that the user also becomes disabled, please contact your System Administrator.

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