Underscoring my frustration

Those who know me well are well aware that there are certain American-based English words that drive me absolutely nuts. ‘Cookies’ is one of them; ‘trash’ another. Don’t get me started.

Added to this list over the past few years has been ‘underscore,’ which, as far as I can tell, originated through computer naming protocols: eg bill_gates.doc. I have always thought it should be ‘underline’ using Aussie English, not ‘underscore.’

But here’s the thing: I’ve been doing a bit of research (ie Googling) and some of the forums indicate that to underline is to place lines under text whereas an underscore joins_the_gap_between_words (and therefore alters the wrap-around of text, as demonstrated). To make matters worse, apparently they’re interchangeable too (no!).

Now I’m confused about just how indignant I should be at this Gatesian imposition on our English English, because there is sort of a difference.

What_to_do? What to do?

What a to-do.

Ooh, let’s talk about hyphenated words too. Actually, let’s not.


  1. This comes up a lot in English / language sites and my recollection is that ‘their’ should be avoided, EITHER by:a) using he/she as has been suggested early on, orb) trying to re-order the sentence so that the uncomfortable gender selection can be avoided – not always so easy unless you’ve got a knack for sentence construction.In your example, hmmm, “Applicants need to be able to demonstrate their ability,” so by including the plural it gets around the “their,” or, “Ability must be demonstrated by an applicant in the areas of…”Bottom line is I think it’s always going to be clunky, because the issue of political correctness will always override linguistic expediency.


  2. Speaking of language I thought I would write to you about one of my issues with language and would love your thoughts.I cut my teeth in the 80’s on language issues when I worked for the federal government on equal employment opportunity programs. The government introduced a Style manual and at one stage, I was given the task of teaching the key aspects of equal opportunity language.People hated the His or Her option and I saw how gradually, he/she crept in and even s/he! This did not bother me so much because at least there was some conscious effort to be gender neutral and use inclusive language. I thought that some form of these attempts would settle down to be used as a matter of course and become common. But no – people always complained how cumbersome this was – not so much in the writing of it but in speaking. What has fascinated me lately is the use of the plural pronoun for a singular person. It is now quite common in government speak (written reports) and in company brochures. I have also heard younger people speak it. It is certainly easier to speak but it feels so wrong! An example (received via a public service letter recently) is “The onus is on the applicant to demonstrate their ability to …”Don’t get me started.


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