Is disambiguity a word?

I had the pleasure of speaking at the User Assistance Conference in Edinburgh recently and spent one lunch time chatting with Professor Geoffrey K. Pullum, who is the Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh and regular contributor to the Language Log. We were talking about whether or not ‘disambiguity’ was a real word. As you can imagine, he had much more thoughtful opinions on this than I did. Professor Pullum had an inkling that it wasn’t a proper word (although I think he kind of liked it anyway!)

Not long after lunch I received this email from the Professor that he had kindly allowed me to share with you because I know you’d be interested to know too!

I was not wrong: the entire 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary, which records every lexeme ever attested in 700 years of the history of the English language, has no entry for “disambiguity” at all.

It also isn’t in Webster’s, the greatest dictionary of American English (search it online at

Suggestions for disambiguity:

    1. disambiguate           2. disambiguates
    3. disambiguating         4. disambiguation
    5. disembogued            6. disambiguated
    7. disembogues            8. disambiguations

Your word, with its verb-restricted “dis-” prefix (as in disable, disabuse, disagree, disallow, disappear, disarm, disband, disbar, disbelieve, etc.) and its noun ending, is entirely your own invention.

Though I should note that a few nouns formed from dis- verbs are found.”Disability” is one that has the -ity suffix.  So that is a sort of model, not in the sense that you did have it in mind, but in the sense that you could have done.  It shows that forming such a word is not out of the question for English word formation principles.  It’s just never been done before!

I’m fairly certain I’m not the first person to have ‘made up’ this word or that it’s ‘my word’, but I like it all the more after learning this little bit about it novelty. Linguists are cool. – Crowdsourcing Usability Testing – Get Involved!

Another day, another way to be involved in the redesign project, and this one’s a little different – but I think it’s going to be great fun!

Here’s what we’re going to do.

I’m going to be doing some remote usability testing using screen sharing and screen recording software that I’ll share back with all of you and that will help guide the ongoing design of the prototype. In particular, I’m going to be doing research with ‘outsiders’.

If you have either experience or interest in helping in this research effort, then I invite you to help test the prototype, either by doing more online remote research, or – even better – by doing some ‘in person’ research with people near you – especially people who are Drupal insiders.

We can then all post the videos of our research together with our findings and recommendations in a central location, building an amazing resource to document the progress of the prototype and what has guided the decision making as it is designed.

We’ll be asking people to help out with testing for each iteration as it is released, so if you’re too busy (or nervous) now, then never fear, opportunities abound. In fact, there’s no reason why this should stop just because the redesign team are off the case.

This is a little more complicated than our original crowdsourcing effort (wireframing), so I’ve quickly thrown together the skeleton of a wiki where we can pull together a toolkit of need to know information for this project – technology to use, how to interview, how to analyse results, that kind of thing. If you have expertise in this area, please feel free to pitch in a few recommendations.

You can find the Crowd Sourcing Research Wiki here. (Be warned, it’s pretty ugly, but I’m too excited about this to spend time making it look pretty – anyone who wants to do so is more than welcome).

So, consider yourself invited. If you’d like to be involved in helping test the prototype then please get involved. If you’ve wanted to try your hand at usability testing but have never had the opportunity, here it is. Exciting, huh? :)