December 17, 2009

Language Tips: disk or disc & advice or advise

Posted in advice/advise, disk/disc at 10:11 am by dlseltzer

Sighting: From a recent issue of Macworld

Apple clears up ‘disc’ and ‘disk’ confusion

Posted on Oct 21, 2009 3:27 pm by Dan Moren, Macworld.com

If you’ve found yourself constantly confounded by the difference between “discs” and “disks” then the kind, generous, and-above all good-looking-folks at Apple Support are here to help you out with their new support article/children’s book: “What’s the difference between a “disc” and a “disk?” *

Perhaps you’d just assumed that discs and disks were variant spellings of the same word. Ha! Nothing could be further from the truth. “Disc,” you see, refers to optical media-you know, those shiny things you put under your martini glass to keep from leaving rings on your antique coffee table. Examples include CDs, DVDs, and perhaps even some day a Blu-ray bags of hurt.

Discs are also removable volumes-you can physically take them out of your computer, where they will clutter up your desk and eventually fall behind it, only to collect dust which, after years in the dark, will develop sentience and slowly begin to gnaw through your floorboards.

How does that differ from a “disk,” you might wonder? Well, a disk is a piece of magnetic media-like your computer’s hard drive or a floppy disk. In case you’re unfamiliar with floppy disks, they’re kind of like flash drives that hold half a standard MP3-and you can take them apart to create jewelry.

Sure, that’s easy enough-but how could you ever expect to keep the two of them straight? For that, we recommend this helpful mnemonic device: “disc” ends in a “c”-if you cup your hand in a ‘c’ shape, it’s the perfect grip for holding an optical disc. On the other hand, “disk” ends in a “k,” which is the periodic symbol for the element Potassium, which is in the same period as Iron (Fe), which is highly magnetic! See? Easy!

And remember: never ever mix the two of these up while talking to Apple technical support or else they will hang up on you. After they’ve noted it on your permanent record.

* Forthcoming titles in the same series tackle similar tricky topics such as, “Is my FireWire port really on fire?” and “I keep running Time Machine, but time only ever seems to go forward.”

Tip 1: Disc or disk

With all due respect to Apple, the jury’s still out on this one. My references are all over the place, and many handled the issue by not addressing it at all. Most dictionaries consider disc and disk to be variations of the same word and, as such, can be used interchangeably. Some say the ‘c’ spelling is British, and the ‘k’ spelling is American. Some say the word originally came from the German and was spelled with a ‘k’ like risk or whisk. When using words of Latin derivation came into vogue, the ‘c’ spelling was adopted, and it was said the word derived from the Latin discus. Who knows?

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing had this to say (not edited):

the american spelling, “disk”, is normal for most computer disks whereas “compact disc”, having come to computers via the audio world, is correctly spelled with a “c”

However, I am skeptical if for no other reason than lousy punctuation and the lack of a capital A in American.

I don’t have any strong feelings on this. I was startled to see that Gowers addressed this in the second edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1965):

The earlier and better spelling is disk. But in 11 of the 16 examples given by OED Supp. of the modern uses of the word, the spelling is disc , and that is now the popular form.

Garner had this to say:

Disk is the more usual spelling. Disc is the spelling used in four senses: (1) a phonograph record; (2) an optical disc (as an audio compact disc or videodisc); (3) a tool making up part of the plow; and (4) a component of a brake system. Otherwise, disk is the preferred spelling for general reference to thin circular objects, intervertebral disks, celestial bodies, and computer disks.

In general, I hate to disagree with Garner; however, this time I must. Stedman’s Medical Word Reference reports that, according to the Federative International Committee on Anatomical Terminology (and they certainly sound official), all anatomical terms should be of Latin derivation, and thus, disc (from the Latin discus) is the term that should be used when discussing medical conditions.

Ironically, the Latin discus derives from the Greek diskus.

Of course, my Merriam Webster’s medical desk dictionary uses disk, so I don’t know.

I googled the words to see if there was a clear preference; however, Google makes no distinction according to spelling. I guess, then, neither shall I.

I think this tip goes into the life is too short category.

Tip 2: Advice or advise

Ongoing evaluation of the program will enable us to chart our progress, provide advise about how program components are succeeding, and identify any components that are not succeeding.

Pay attention now!

Advice is the noun, and advise is the verb.

Advice is a noun that means guidance or counsel. The C in advice takes on an S sound.

Advise is a verb that means give guidance or provide counsel. The S in advise takes on a Z sound.

The sentence above should be:

Ongoing evaluation of the program will enable us to chart our progress, provide advice about how program components are succeeding, and identify any components that are not succeeding.

These words are often confused, so it’s important to remember the distinction. One way to remember it is to use this saying:

Only the wise should advise.

Now, about the sentence, please advise. Its use is common, but it is ugly and clumsy, and I would advise you not to use it.

This is the last WLUT of 2009. Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas! Happy Kwanzaa! And Happy New Year! See you in 2010.

1 Comment »

  1. Discs are round; disks are not. Simple as that.


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