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I've never understood this. Why is the proper usage "uninstall"? You can't actually "unin" something at all and this isn't that case with most (all?) other use cases. Examples:

  • You make someone sane, but you don't uninsane them.
  • You make something accessible but never uninaccessible something.
  • You can make something adequate but never uninadequate something.
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"Install" is a verb -- all of your counterexamples are adjectives. You can no more "uninsane" people than you could have "insaned" them in the first place. –  bye Mar 4 '11 at 9:42
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Too bad you also cannot uninundate something –  tenfour Mar 4 '11 at 16:47
    
@Stan: And that's a shame. –  Adam Robinson Mar 4 '11 at 18:43
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unindent is another counter-example that comes to mind. –  ErikE May 24 '11 at 7:43
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4 Answers 4

up vote 70 down vote accepted
  1. Insane is the opposite of sane, from Latin in- “not” and sanus.
  2. Inaccessible is the opposite of accessible, from Latin in- “not” and accessibilis.
  3. Inadequate is the opposite of adequate, from in- and adequate.
  4. Install is not the opposite of stall. It comes from Latin installare, from in- in the meaning “in” (not “not”) and stallum.

Uninstall is not a double negative. Install simply happens to begin with an in, much like insert (not the opposite of sert), invert (not the opposite of vert), invent (not the opposite of vent), indicate (not the opposite of dicate), include (not the opposite of clude), etc.

Edit: here are a few more words beginning with unin-:

  • from in-: unintentional, unindexed, uninclined, uninfected, uninquiring, uninjected, uninitiate, uninformative, unincluded, unindent, unintuitive, uninvitingly
  • from inter-: uninteresting, unintelligent, unintelligible, uninterpretable, uninterpolated...

Courtesy of Wiktionary.

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I think it points the unin mistake done by the OP. But it seems to me that for something to be uninstalled it does not need for it to have been installed once, like unmounted does not presupose the thing to have ever been mounted. So I guess, given the meaning of removing software which is installed, deinstall would be much more meaningful. At least, uninstalled can mean that you have some software but you haven't installed yet, so it is not-installed or uninstalled which is not the way we use the word when talking about software. –  Trinidad Mar 4 '11 at 15:24
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@Trinidad: it's actually even more complicated than that: there are two different un- s in English. The one that applies to adjectives usually means "not" — unusual, uncertain, unattractive, unhelpful. The other un- applies to verbs and generally means "do the opposite thing" — undo, undress, uncover. Hence the confusion about the meaning of uninstallED, which could be a verb or an adjective. But there is no confusion whatsoever about the meaning of to uninstall, which is clearly a verb. You cannot uninstall something that's not there. There is no ambiguity. –  RegDwigнt Mar 4 '11 at 15:36
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I like the idea of "cluding a rationale" in my documents, meaning that I left it out. –  Kaz Dragon Mar 4 '11 at 16:03
    
Thanks for pointing that out =) –  Trinidad Mar 4 '11 at 16:18
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What Reg says. I'd like to add that you are not the only one who is reluctant to use "uninstall" for one reason or another, as I have heard similar complaints elsewere. I think there are two other things that add to this dislike:

  • "Un" followed by "in" sounds almost like a duplicate syllable, which generally doesn't sound good.
  • If you were to negate a prefixed verb in Latin or needed a verb with opposite meaning, you would usually not simply add another prefix, but rather replace the old suffix, as in increase–decrease, inhale–exhale, convert–revert, etc. Using unin- clearly marks the word as a hybrid construction. Note that hybrid constructions go further than mere Anglicising: instead of only adjusting the sound of the foreign word a bit and inflecting it, as in Anglicisation, whole new dictionary articles are being created. Of course we use hybrid constructions all the time, and a great many now feel completely natural; but a newfangled odour might still cling to some newly formed ones, though it remains unclear why some are immediately acceptable while others are not (like unrevertableness). I think prefixes are generally harder to swallow than suffixes, like -able.

Probably owing in part to these considerations, alternatives have been proposed, like deinstall and simply remove, which I think are both acceptable, and even exstall, which nobody would understand. While I have some sympathy with those who resist new words, there comes a time when we need to give up; I think that time has come for uninstall. It is still not my favourite word of all times, but I won't stop using it now. At least it is not gaudy, like many new words from the advertising business.

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Perform reverse installation! –  ErikE May 24 '11 at 7:45
    
Hmm, I like outstall myself! –  user16269 Aug 4 '12 at 11:57
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It's un-install, not unin-stall!

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Exactly. And over the years, it got shortened to uninstall. –  JFW Mar 5 '11 at 2:45
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Shouldn't it more logically be disinstall by analogy with disinvite, disinfect, disinherit, disinter? But it's too late... the software developers have already invented the word; we can't disinvent it.

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Funny but in Russian it is "desinfect". Why is it? –  Gennady Vanin Novosibirsk Mar 6 '11 at 5:58
    
Actually, not all your examples work. "Disinherit" is in no sense a converse of "inherit"; "disinfect" is as likely to be used for preventing infection as removing it; and I don't recall ever having met "disinvite". But you're right that "uninstall" is historically unlikely: until recently almost all verbs in "un-" were about wrapping, enclosing, fastening. –  Colin Fine Mar 7 '11 at 15:33
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@Colin: disinherit, disinter, disinvite and disinfect all share the idea that something has been done and then undone. For disinherit, that thing is not inheriting, but being named an heir. And for disinfect, the original meaning (which can be verified by searching Google books) was cleansing objects that had been exposed to patients with a contagious disease. I have indeed met disinvite, and it's also in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, while uninvite is not. I see through Google, though, that uninvite is also commonly used in the same sense (i.e. withdraw an invitation from). –  Peter Shor Mar 7 '11 at 16:42
    
I don't agree. You're right about the origins of "disinfect", but I'm talking about how the word is used today. I certainly disagree about "disinherit": first, there is no "inherit" which is being undone, and second nobody needs to be "named an heir" in order to be disinherited - they just need to be an heir. I'm happy to believe in "disinvite" - I've just never encountered it before. –  Colin Fine Mar 8 '11 at 11:59
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