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I'm considering using the term "salutary" in a technical document I'm writing to refer to something beneficial. Here's the context:

Salutary side effects of our model are to harness idle computational resources as opposed to provisioning additional fixed infrastructure and to scale resource supply commensurate with demand.

My question is, is this correct usage of the term, or should salutary be reserved for situations that refer to things which are beneficial to a being's physical health only?

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If you're writing a technical document, I might recommend using simpler language. Technical writing should generally be simple and concise. This would mean getting rid of unnecessary words. Yes, to some extent it depends on your audience... but even if your audience are highly educated people, you have to consider that there will be some highly educated people who don't speak English as a first language and will understand better if it's not as complex. –  Armstrongest Sep 28 '10 at 19:13
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

To answer your question: 'salutary' isn't just about health. However it does have other connotations you don't need. For example it's often used when something bad happened but we learned a salutary lesson. Or, things were going wrong, so these new procedures are salutary.

The best thing in a technical document is to make the sentence easily read and understood. To that end you're better off just saying 'beneficial' or better still 'positive' which works well with 'side-effects'.

I think your sentence would read better, something like

Our model has two positive side effects: you don't need additional fixed infrastructure (because idle computational resources are harnessed), and resources scale with demand.

But this is all a matter of taste, and I may have completely distorted the meaning!

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definitely prefer your wording. Much easier to read. –  Steve Melnikoff Sep 28 '10 at 18:02
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Well, from a dictionary definition (this one from the NOAD)...

salutary |ˈsalyəˌterē|
adjective
(esp. with reference to something unwelcome or unpleasant) producing good effects; beneficial:
a salutary reminder of where we came from.

  • (archaic) health-giving: the salutary Atlantic air.

...it's quite clear that no, you don't need to reserve the word just for physical health references. (Unless archaic is the style you aim for :-)

So your example about side effects is fine; this is proper and accepted use of the word. However, I wholeheartedly agree with cindi that it's best to go with a common, readily understood expression (e.g. "good side effects" or "positive side effects"), especially in the context of a technical document.

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