How to write like Raymond: Intentional typographical errors

I'm a pretty good speller. If I want to show impatience, I will type very fast and make no attempt to fix the typographical errors. Here's an example: Somebody asked me what the correct name is for a particular user interface element.

i don't nkow. call up the online hep and see what the ycall it.

It may surprise you to know that I am not part of the committee that decides on the names for all user interface elements. If you want to know the correct name for a user interface element (for example, the Start menu), you don't need to ask me. You can look it up yourself: It's in the help.

The list of agreed-upon names for user interface elements is given to the help authoring team so they can use those correct terms in the help files, and the editors in the help authoring team use that list to ensure that all the terminology is used correctly.

Therefore, if you want to look up the correct name for a user interface element, you can look for it in the help system, because the help system has editors who check these things.

Comments (32)
  1. Jack Mathews says:

    In that case, going by the help files, Windows Small Business Server 2008 is called Windows Small Business Server 2003 :-)

  2. blah says:

    Somehow this link seems too appropriate.

  3. Larry Hosken says:

    Are you sure they asked for the "correct name"?  Maybe they asked for the "true name", hoping to bind the UI element to their will through wizardry.  I wouldn’t expect such a true name to appear in the online help where any bozo user could find+abuse it.  I’d ask the relevant engineer instead.

  4. Rich M says:

    "If I want to show impatience…"

    I can’t imagine a situation where I would want to show impatience intentionally.  It’s a negative trait.

    I unfortunately sometimes show it unintentionally.  But even in those cases, I will apologize afterwards…because again, it’s a negative trait, and it’s not a good thing.

  5. AndyC says:

    I prefer to use the phrase:

    "I call them Steve"

    That tends to stop people asking!

  6. RichB says:

    > the help system has editors who check these things

    Are the editors on strike when it comes to “System Tray”?

    170 incorrect usages on MSDN:

    Examples like this are why you have greater respect than MSDN and why people ask you instead.

    [Um, the help people don’t write MSDN. -Raymond]
  7. Morten says:

    "I call them Steve"

    It’s a pretty name… ;-)

    Read The Fine Manual usually does it. If not, the third letter changes meaning and becomes rude. After that, it’s RTMF… But only to people I don’t need to talk to ever again. And no, it’s not "Read The Manual First". :-)

  8. Mike Dunn says:

    How does one look up the name of something without knowing the name already? I’m trying to find the official name of the breadcrum bar right now, and I’m not having any luck. (“Address bar” isn’t right, that’s the name of the instance of the breadcrum bar inside Explorer. I don’t want that, I want the name of the control itself.)

    [Where else does the breadcrumb bar appear? The Explorer/common dialog one is called the Address bar in the Help file. -Raymond]
  9. JamesNT says:

    This reminds me of my clients who send me emails that say:

    "We need you to call Dell and order new toner for our printer."


  10. If you’re such a good speller, why did you capitalize the "It’s" after the colon?

    (And the crowd goes wild…)

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hear hear, Raymond. We’ve all had silly questions like that. I usually don’t even bother to think up a complete sentence in such cases, just replying ‘rtfm’ instead (if I can be sure the recipient knows the abbreviation).

  12. Tom says:

    The perennial hacker reply: RTFM!

    Some people might consider it rude to spout out with RTFM, but, by Zeus! how do you think *I* learned it?  I devour technical books (and have been known to spend the odd afternoon reading MSDN documentation) to figure all this crap out.  Why can’t other people put in the same effort?  After all, there’s even this handy little "search" feature you can use to get you close to where you can start reading.

    It amazes me that people think they just don’t have any time to read, and that knowledge somehow appears from thin air without work.  "But I don’t read fast!" they complain.  The only way to improve is to practice.  So get to it!

  13. Dave says:

    @Maurits –

    Sorry, but no wild crowd for you.

    The writer gets to choose between using an upper-case or lower-case letter following a colon. The only requirement is that the writer remain consistent in usage throughout the piece.

  14. kbiel says:

    >"But I don’t read fast!" they complain.

    "I don’t read fast" either, but I do read quickly.  Perhaps that is their problem.

  15. mike says:

    Speaking here as an editor (tho not in your group, Raymond), I’m going to suggest that this strategy will not always work. Here are some of the reasons:

    * It’s the writer who references the UI in their text, and it’s not always practical (or even possible) for the editor to grub around in the product to verify the writer’s work. And sometimes writers don’t get it exactly right the first time; they are often worried about other things when drafting.

    * Some doc text manages to escape a full-on editing pass.

    * The writer might have been working from a spec, from an early version, or from some other pre-code-freeze source, and the UI was changed before the product was shipped. We can’t continually check UI references in the docs against the product during development (alas).

    * You might be reading docs from an earlier version of the product which were not updated for a subsequent version in which a UI change was made.

    * The UI might not be explicitly mentioned in the docs. It’s not necessarily the policy in every group to have an exhaustive reference for every piece of UI. In some cases, UI will be mentioned explicitly in the docs only as part of a task-oriented procedure. (This is of course particularly the case with error messages, tho that is probably not the UI that’s under discussion here.)

    There’s also a question in this case of what constitutes the "correct" name. It is quite frequent for initial designs for the UI not to be in sync with what the group’s policies are for UI text — terminology, capping, etc. If the product has been frozen before the docs are finalized, the docs might reflect what the UI actually says instead of the nominally "correct" UI.

    It’s possible that I work in a group where the protocol for drafting and reviewing the UI is less formalized than in yours, Raymond, but I’ve been in UE a long, long time, and it’s a rare case indeed in my experience when UI is spec’d, edited, and approved before any of it is coded.

    All that said, I don’t know why someone would ask you what the UI is. :-)

  16. Mike Dunn says:

    Raymond: I was using a different idea of “user interface element.” When I tried to find “the correct name for a particular user interface element,” I was coming at it from the angle of “I’ve put a breadcrumb bar in my app and I want to use the same name for it in my help files as Windows uses in its help files.”  

    “Address bar” only applies to Explorer which uses it as a replacement for the address bar of previous versions. My breadcrumb bar could show something else besides an address, but if Windows help calls the control a “flippy-do bar,” I’d like to use that as well to maintain consistency with an established name. That established name is what I was searching for.

    [There is no name “the flippy-do bar”. It’s just a new feature of the Address bar. So when you add the flippy-do to your application’s XYZ control, just call it the XYZ control (now with flippy-do action!) -Raymond]
  17. Alexandre Grigoriev says:


    "Open help in your Vista and type what you want to find"

    "Sorry, it gives dozens absolutely unrelated BS links"

    "Too bad, that’s because they couldn’t buy Y!".

  18. streuth says:

    surely it’s fsater to RTFMa nyhow!!!


  19. Chris says:

    "Help I don’t know the proper name for item X"

    "Look it up you idiot"

    "How do I search for it, if I don’t know the proper name?"

  20. J says:

    "How do I search for it, if I don’t know the proper name?"

    If you weren’t able to find the info you were looking for and need to appeal to someone for help, then include a small summary of what you did on your own.

    E.g., "What’s the name of UI element X?  I browsed the help in categories Y and Z, but couldn’t find it."

    Of course, then you run the risk of sounding dumb instead of sounding lazy.

  21. Mark says:

    Maurits: think "It’s in the help (TM)". Nit-picking capitalisation is a Bad Thing.

    While I like Raymond’s tactic, nothing riles me more than people who feel they are so busy that they write like this all the time.  Yes, you’re a manager now, but proving you can be constantly cavalier does not inspire.

  22. jondr says:

    It drove me nuts trying to find the name of that little boxed X in the upper right side of a window that is used to close the window and/or stop the application. On the other hand, on the Mac, you have that little red dot thingie in the upper left side of the window that is used to close the window.

  23. Bob says:

    Names left out because I’m getting senile….

    Some old woman went to see a famous concert pianist. After the concert, she was gushing over him, saying "I’ld give my life to be able to play like that". The reply is "Ma’am, I did."

    People (and no, its not just kids these days) want to do everything immediately. Whether it’s programming computers or driving race cars, they expect to be the world’s greatest expert by the end of their second day playing around.

    And demanding they "RTFM" when there’s so many FMs is another way of telling them they have to actually do some work.

    On average, telling people they have to work to achieve their goals is a remarkably ineffective way to make them happy.   ;)

  24. porter says:

    > In that case, going by the help files, Windows Small Business Server 2008 is called Windows Small Business Server 2003 :-)

    In the next edition they will be:

    Windows Business in Chapter 11 Server 2009

  25. Longing says:

    This is why I always let people know that I’m typing slow so that they can read it without having their lips get too tired.

  26. Jeremy says:

    "People (and no, its not just kids these days) want to do everything immediately. Whether it’s programming computers or driving race cars, they expect to be the world’s greatest expert by the end of their second day playing around."

    Hah, try being a physicist.  "Yes, but how do you *KNOW* there’re no UFOs."  "How do you *KNOW* gravity is right?"  "How do you *KNOW* .999… = 1?"  

    And apparently we need to be more clear, because RTFM to them does not always mean "read and *understand*"

  27. Bulletmagnet says:

    The naming of control’s a difficult matter,

    It isn’t just one of your holiday games;

    You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

    When I tell you, a control has THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

    (with apologies to Felis catus)

  28. chrismcb says:

    @mike are you suggesting that the help file doesn’t always match the UI? The the help doesn’t necessarily match the one thing the user sees and interacts with? That the help might tell the user to perform a set of actions differently than they actually need to be performed, because the spec changed?

  29. SRS says:

    Use your position of power and just make something up. Tell them the UI element is called a Fungeblinkerbango and see how far the term gets. $1 bonus if Fungeblinkerbango  makes it into any marketing material.

  30. BC says:

    I like the way you think.  

    Intentional misspelling is a message "between the lines" that means "this is not important enough" or "this has been going on too long", etc.   Sending such a message between the lines is less confrontational than explicitly saying the same thing.

    Like as you posted before, with meetings that run over their time, you seemingly "accidentally" walk in and sit down, mumbling apologies for being late.  The message is "YOU are running late", but delivered with not a hint of hostility.  

    These are not "negative traits" at all.  They are clever ploys to send a message that could be taken as confrontational, but delivered in such a way that, should someone become confrontational, it is they who will appear overly hostile and antagonistic.

  31. Mark says:

    BC: ahh, the joyous escalation of passive aggression.

  32. Mark says:

    jondr: it’s called the close button, for obvious reasons.  Perhaps you mean the control box (slightly less obvious)?

    Although I’m now alarmed at how many people programmatically remove the Close menu item to effect a "non-closeable" window.  That combination of window styles is missing for a reason.  It reminds me of people analogously using "dove" for past tense of "dive".

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