Wednesday, November 06, 2013


Abbreviating Lists: a Shorter Word for "Including" Would Be Nice to Have

When I first used INSEE statistical reports (long ago), one feature which caught my attention was the frequent use of"dont" entries. The French word "dont" can be translated to American as "including" or "of which". The statistical tables used this term to give partial breakdown of totals and aggregates, showing components of interest without itemizing all the details. For instance, one might show the number of households with pets followed by an indented line "dont chiens" to indicate the number of those households (or the portion) which have dogs. Other categories, such as snakes, gerbils, and so on might not be mentioned, especially if their frequencies are too low to be significant (and reliably measured).

Semantically, "dont" is used here to indicate "here is a partial list" of an aggregate just cited, implying that other members of the list may remain unnamed. In this sense, it is an abbreviated list: "this" + unnamed "other". It is a highlighting mechanism, with rhetorical value.

Such highlighting of parts of aggregates is not uncommon. In more general usage than reporting of statistics, one might say "I received three birthday cards in the mail this morning, including one from my brother." Or, "I received three birthday cards in the mail this morning, one of which was from my brother." The French could say (mixing languages for purposes of illustration) "I received three birthday cards in the mail this morning, dont one from my brother." It works just like "including" only smaller.

The concept came up recently capturing transactions in GnuCash. It is possible to split transactions, in that system, into multiple component lines. For instance, I enter my grocery store purchases with a separate line for pet food, for which I have a separate expense category. Similarly, I itemize other non-grocery purchases made at the grocery store, assigned to their respective expense categories. The lines entered must sum to the total, so I calculated what to put on the "just grocery" line, with some help from the input form's discrepancy calculation. The process could be easier for the user if a "dont" logic were available:
  1. enter the total, which generates a single entry.
  2. partially itemize, adding lines to be automatically deducted conserving the sum.
In other words, split and compensate.
Perhaps this is already possible, but I have not found how. Is the concept too "French" or generally easy to understand? If one said "it should have an 'including' capture feature" would anyone else understand? The wealth of other uses of "including", especially as a verb meaning aggregating or marshalling, makes it too ambiguous in this instance. But what other word would do better? Would "it should have an "of which" capture feature" be better understood? I believe that "il devrait y avoir une fonction de saisie 'dont'" would be understood by French developers (at least some of them).

A possible solution is to use "incl.", as is surely done quite often on reports. But how should it be pronounced?

Its American counterparts are "including" and "of which" but, what about "particularly" when used to achieve the highlighting?  One might also have said in the example used above, "I received three birthday cards in the mail this morning, particularly one from my brother," but to achieve an equivalent degree of highlighting in French one might say " plus particulièrement une de mon frère" not just "dont une de mon frère."

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