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When referring to something, (electrical wires, in my case) and it is half white and half other color, do you put White or the other color first?

I want to describe the color of these wires as ONE word/phrase. They are all half white and half other color (orange, green, blue, brown, etc).

So would I say "Please grab that white-orange cable" or would I say "grab that orange-white cable"? I would imagine you put whichever color is more first, but the white and orange are equally divided. Not sure if what I'm saying makes sense...

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If they all have white and another color, then I'd put the other color first since it's the distinguishing feature. And I might even just say the other color, without mentioning the white. –  JLG Aug 17 '12 at 20:27
This question looks to be completely subjective or unanswerable, as the choice seems irrelevant, but but the answer demonstrates that that's not the case: Leading with the changing (variable) color is actually extremely good advice. –  Jaydles Dec 28 '12 at 15:51
None of these cables should be "half-white and half-orange"; if you look closely, one color should be predominant. Thus you would be able to describe a cable as either "white with an orange stripe" or "orange with a white stripe". For shortening, the background color is named first, and then the stripe color; so a "white-orange" cable has a white background with an orange stripe and should appear, on close examination, to be at least 60/40 or even 70/30 white/orange. –  Hellion Dec 28 '12 at 16:22
@Jaydles I don't agree, the 'domain' is relevant to the discipline where the wire is used, not the English language. That is, "electricians usually.." or "when sysadmins.." –  Jeff Atwood Jan 28 '13 at 20:15
@JeffAtwood, will it confuse matters if I say that I think I agree with you (even as you disagree)? I totally agree that the dominant determinant is domain-specific convention, but the question was closed because in the absence of such convention, it appeared unanswerable. But the top answer points out that when there is no convention, there's still a good approach for clearer writing - lead with the more dominant, or more variable color (in this case, the non-white one). –  Jaydles Jan 29 '13 at 2:42
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2 Answers

In certain domains, there are conventions which I would suggest take precedence. The convention with network cables you mentioned would certainly be to list the "color" of the cable first combined with "-white" after.

In cases where there are no clear conventions, I would suggest using two rules:

  • Are there features that are common (such as the white part of the cables)? If so, those are less distinguishing and should be placed at the end.
  • Is one of the colors more dominant? For example, is there just a white stripe rather than a relatively even split of the two colors? Let the dominant color come first in your speaking.
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This is exactly what I was looking for. Yes, I was referring to network cables. My coworker was listing the sequence beginning with orange-white, orange, etc. but to me, this sounded like he was saying "orange, THEN white-orange" which sounded confusing. In the future, I will put the dominant color first. I will also make a short pause after an item in the case that it would be confused with the next item in the sequence (in my case, saying orange white orange is confusing, but a pause after orange-white and then saying orange would help distinguish between the two items). –  Alex Aug 17 '12 at 20:38
I've always heard them called EITHER orange-white, blue-white etc, OR orange-stripe, blue-stripe etc. If your co-worker had said "orange-stripe, orange", I imagine it would have been more clear to you. Of course, it's possible to distinguish them this way because striped network cables always have white as one of the two colours. –  user16269 Aug 18 '12 at 0:01
@user16269 - That's only true if you're limited to speaking about 4 pairs or less; however, the 4-pair color scheme is a subset of the 25-pair color scheme, in which you find such things as "slate on violet". If you ever stray from pure Ethernet cabling into phone wiring, you'll have to forget the "white is always one of the colors" rule. –  MT_Head Jan 30 '13 at 19:01
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For network cables, the color of the insulation itself goes first, followed by the "painted on" color; that allows you to distinguish the right wire in the pair of orange and white wires. Usually the color of the insulation is the more dominant of the two.

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Thanks for the answer, this was part of my reasoning for putting white first. I took a good look at the wires. Disregarding the solid-colored wires, I can clearly see that the multi-color ones are actually white, with the color painted on top of that. All of these answers make perfect sense to me, even though they conflict. Hmmmm... –  Alex Aug 17 '12 at 20:44
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