Breaking a custom

Taken from
Taken from

In a world where it is often proclaimed that “the customer is king”, we are constantly bombarded with items or services that are custom-made for us. The word custom has always held a deep fascination for me because of the inherent contradiction in its uses.

The earliest recorded use of the word custom is in the 13 century. It was used in law to distinguish between common law and what was a customary act. So it basically stood for something that was done over a period of time and was accepted as common behavior.

Sometime in the 18 century, the word got another meaning and when used in conjunction with words like made or built, it came to mean something that was not customary or common.

Today, in the world of application development, it is the latter meaning, without the suffixed words, that has taken prominence. As technical writers, we must always be aware that custom on its own does not mean the same as when it is used in conjunction with words like made or built. This is a good thing to keep in mind when we are reviewing UI text or error messages.

Take this example:

Field1: A custom field to which you can assign any value.

This usage of the word is wrong and the sentence must be edited to read as follows:

Field1: A customizable field to which you assign any value.

Failure to catch such instances also has serious effects during localization. To test this, all you need to do is, paste both the above messages into Google Translate and see the difference. I tried it in Hindi and Google transliterates the word custom instead of translating it. In the latter instance, though, it actually translates the word. For a user, this may mean the difference between using your product or moving on to another one.

As is the custom, I shall wrap up now.


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