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I found myself writing the following in a bit of technical documentation:

The Trainers' and Students' clients have very little in common, both user interface-wise and code-wise.

At first, I wondered whether I should have written user-interface-wise, user interface-wise, user interface wise or user interfacewise... or some other combination. A quick Google search suggested however that the "-wise" suffix actually isn't one you can or should use on any word.

What do you suggest? I guess the easiest way out is rephrasing (e.g., not only for what concerns the user interface, but also for actual methods), but I wanted to learn whether appending "-wise" to arbitrary words is incorrect, frowned upon or merely a stylistic choice.

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I'd go with it being stylistic (I believe there was a mention of this very subject in Strunk and White); but your rephrasing sounds better to the ear for me. :) (Alternatively, "...in both the aspects of user interface and code".) – user730 Dec 13 '10 at 13:19
Not to be picky, but "-wise" is actually being used as a suffix, not a prefix - may want to edit the question's title. – Will Dec 13 '10 at 13:49
@Will Done, thanks. (Aww, I totally expected that "ff" to form a ligature.) – badp Dec 13 '10 at 13:53
Offtopic: The excessive use of -wise is parodied in the 1960 classic film [ The Apartment ](imdb.com/title/tt0053604/quotes): "That's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise", "Premium-wise and billing-wise, we are eighteen percent ahead of last year, October-wise", etc. – ShreevatsaR Dec 13 '10 at 19:17
up vote 11 down vote accepted

TheFreeDictionary.com gives this usage note:

Usage Note: The suffix -wise has a long history of use to mean "in the manner or direction of," as in clockwise, otherwise, and slantwise. Since the 1930s, however, the suffix has been widely used in the vaguer sense of "with respect to," as in This has not been a good year saleswise. Taxwise, it is an unattractive arrangement. Since their introduction, these usages have been associated with informal prose, and they are still considered by many to be awkward. For this reason, they might best be avoided, especially in formal writing. The most obvious alternative is to use paraphrases, as in This has not been a good year with respect to sales. As far as taxes are concerned, it is an unattractive arrangement.

The meat of this suggests that using -wise to mean with respect to is considered informal and even awkward. I suspect that pushing the boundaries as you do in the examples to include such constructions as user interface-wise makes an awkward usage even more awkward, as your own instincts seem to suggest. I generally have no problem with informal speech or writing in informal settings or for emphasis, but whenever I feel I am pushing the envelope I'll pause, think, and probably recast the sentence.

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One of the problems with the particular example user interface-wise is that while it needs to be parsed as (user interface)-wise, the most immediate parsing would probably be user (interface-wise), since hyphens typically bind tighter than spaces. Occasionally I find myself really wanting something like this, in which case I’d usually go with user-interface-wise to avoid the parsing problem, but this is definitely just the lesser of two evils — it’s still awkward, since user-interface is unidiomatic. This is where I wish we could German word-treatment in-English-transparently-use… – PLL Dec 13 '10 at 15:30
@PLL: The English way to punctuate that is with an en dash: user interface–wise. – Jon Purdy Jun 17 '12 at 21:07

Elements of Style (Strunk and White) mentions it as something to avoid. Try instead:

They have little in common with respect to user interface and code.

or better:

They mostly disagree with respect to user interface and code.

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minus 1,000,000 points for using that book as a reference! (j/k) – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 13 '10 at 18:50
Firstly, Strunk and White is not an authority but an opinionated guide (a great one, though!), and secondly it in fact says "Not to be used indiscriminately as a pseudosuffix" (emphasis mine) and even "There is not a noun in the language to which -wise cannot be added if the spirit moves one to add it." :-) – ShreevatsaR Dec 13 '10 at 19:07

protected by tchrist Mar 1 '15 at 19:05

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