Case 10: Just because they look the same doesn't mean they are the same

12th February 2002

Filed by: Officer Taylor

The Offence

Data Factors's press release on Tottenham Hotspur's forthcoming deployment of their web-based ticketing software has this to say:

With the view-from-seat [feature], fans will be able to zoom in and out to help them decide where to sit. If they are not happy with the view, they will be able to select alternate seats.

Alternate seats? So they'll only be allowed to choose from the even-numbered ones?

The Verdict

Straightforward: Data Factors's publicity people have decided that ``alternate'' is a nice, convenient synonym for ``alternative''. Not so. ``alternate'' means ``relating to every other one of a series'', which is not even close in meaning to ``alternative''.

(And by the way, ``alternative'' doesn't really mean what Data Factors think it does either: it refers to a straight choice between two options, not simply to anything other that what you started with. The word they actually want is ``other''. Or ``different''.)

The Sentence

Just because two words look similar does not mean that their meanings are close. If it were so, then ``accessible'' and ``accessories'' would mean the same. It's worrying how much this sort of sloppiness is increasing these days, so we feel we must make an example of Data Factors. Accordingly, we sentence them to have their intestines gouged out with a teaspoon.



*** Bonus Offence ***

In an email of 11th May 2004, SAGP Cadet Sam Fentress correctly points out that:, however, provides the following definitions:

And also cites similar wishy-washy concessions among the subsidiary meanings allowed for ``alternate'' by Merriam-Webster and the OED. Cadet Fentress's message ends with a heatfelt plea: ``Do promise me that you will write to the authors of these dictionaries and have them correct their blatant errors.''

Here at the SAGP, we are far too busy to fritter away our valuable time writing letters to lexicographers. (Not to mention that our printer doesn't work, even though we have replaced all four of its ink cartridges.) However, the next time the OED editors visit this site - they come here all the time, you know - they will see that for their Special Bonus Offence of collaborating with the enemy, they are hereby sentenced to find a new definition of pain and suffering as Sarlac slowly digests them in his belly over a thousand years. Sentence to be commuted to a fine of six shillings as and when they bring out editions of their dictionary from which this disgraceful ``alternate meaning'' has been expunged.

Next case!

Disclosure: Officer Taylor was involved in building the software to which the the press-release critiqued in this case alludes. He was not involved in writing the press release.

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