Wednesday, August 31, 2016

“Setup” vs “to set up”

“Setup” is a noun. “Set up” is a verb. Please stop confusing the two.


“Did you set up your computer yesterday?” “Yes, the new setup is working great!”

Recently, I’m seeing many websites that fail to distinguish between noun and verb, and it’s needless and sloppy. Not just blogs—I’m talking professional websites that process real money. The latest, which irked me enough to write this article, is for my apartment, which asks me to “setup autopay.” Why would I use autopay for a setup? And what's the setup for? Oh, never mind, you want me to set up autopay. Got it.

The problem here isn’t limited to setup and set up. There are many more words like this.

  • Bob needs to pick up his pickup truck from the shop.
  • The software backup failed. Maybe I should try to back up again?
  • I once lost data because I shut down my computer incorrectly. Proper shutdowns are important.
  • D-backs baserunners are getting run down a lot this season. Rundowns and other mental mistakes are a big problem for the team.
  • Getting shut out is bad. Last week’s 13-0 shutout loss to the Reds was terrible.
  • Retailers should knock off with selling those cheap knockoffs.

Usually the noun is one word, but sometimes it’s hyphenated. For example, we’ve got shut-ins, come-ons, and do-overs, each of which are distinct from shutting in, coming on, and doing over.

Why does any of this matter? As with most grammar rules, the point isn’t to follow a rule for the sake of following a rule. The point is to make it as easy as possible for the reader to parse a sentence on the first pass, without having to backtrack and reread part or all of the sentence in order to make sense of it. A single backtrack costs the reader only a fraction of a second and is forgivable—maybe even unnoticeable. But backtracks compound upon each other, adding up, first leading to ambiguity and confusion and later leading to reader fatigue—that’s where the reader’s mind wanders while their eyes continue to skim over the words. Reader fatigue isn’t the reader’s fault: it’s the writer’s fault. And if a fatigued reader has enough good sense, they’ll give up on the piece and go read something better written.

Thank you. I hope I didn’t give you reader fatigue.