What does the word "unhighlight" mean? Alternately, is it even a word? What would be its usage?

  • I can't find it in my dictionary or on the internet.
  • I am using it in the context of if you highlight something then don't highlight it anymore.
  • I mean highlight as in mechanical(on the computer) or with a physical marker/highlighter.

I still think it can be a word, though, because my dictionary is really old.

Additional Info:

Maybe the answers could include where the definition is found(a source), because I want to know if it is a question at all.

  • All possible combinations of existing words and productive affixes are never given by any dictionary. It would not be possible. Productivity in combining forms like prefixes and suffixes means you get to use them on arbitrary words to create a brand new word with understandable meaning — even if you are the very first person in the history of the world ever to do so. It’s just like how you can prefix any verb with the word not: it creates a valid construction with a well-defined meaning. Well, usually. Sometimes things can be ununhelpfully unununbelievable.
    – tchrist
    Aug 21 '14 at 3:42
  • "you highlight something then don't highlight it anymore." You wrote the meaning already. So why do you ask? Aug 21 '14 at 8:26
  • @curiousdannii I wanted to know any other definitions and if it even was a word. I'm editing things I have to know what's a word or not.
    – Pobrecita
    Aug 21 '14 at 14:42

I find both unhighlight (and dehighlight) on-line with substantial use and both sound fine to me.

Because un- is a standard prefix that can be applied to a wide swath of words and generally be readily understood, dictionaries won't include many (most?) un- words, even well attested ones, unless their un- version has become lexicalized and has shades of meaning not evident from the prefix+base combination.

(In fact, just from the second paragraph I have, the following verbs -or words in their verbal forms- sound perfectly fine with un-: (un)prefix, (un)apply, (un)include, (un)lexicalize). None are in my dictionary, though.)

  • 5
    I don’t understand why this sort of question keeps coming up; can there really be a language where this cannot be done? I realize not all languages are super-agglutinative or that some have more affixes than others. But all languages do have syntactic possibilities for uttering multiple words in this or that order to produce a new idea. It’s part of what makes language language.
    – tchrist
    Aug 21 '14 at 3:45
  • @tchrist My guess is that while it's easy to decompose these words, it's tricker to compose them. (Since I know you know Spanish,) we recently had a question on the Spanish SE about adding -ito, which seems simple enough, but knowing whether it needs the infix -c- or -ec- is only mildly predictable, and not every word can take -ito for sometimes quite arbitrary reasons. In English, should it be un-? de-? Or is un- even allowed? In my mind I can unrun [for liquids or cables], but I can't unswim, and that's gotta be confusing as heck for non-natives. Aug 21 '14 at 3:56
  • (which, granted, might mean that some of these questions are more fit for ELL SE) Aug 21 '14 at 3:57

It means (this was your question, no?) to turn off the highlighting of something that is highlighted, so that it is no longer highlighted.

Some people use dehighlight; some use unhighlight. They are synonymous, as far as I know. The Emacs manual, for example, uses dehighlight, but various 3rd-party Emacs libraries use unhighlight (to mean the same thing). However, a Google Ngram for both terms finds nothing for dehighlight.


At the computer magazines where I've worked, we consistently used the term deselect to refer to clicking a highlighted option in a menu so that the highlighting went away, indicating that the option was no longer the active one for that particular program parameter. Unhighlight would work just as well, in my opinion, though we never used it.

I was surprised to find that the computer magazines' meaning of deselect isn't reflected in the most visible Merriam-Webster Online definition of that term. Instead, MWO gives as the computer-related definition of deselect "to remove (something) from a list of choices especially by clicking with a computer mouse."

In most software programs, however, you don't remove a highlighted option from view when you deselect (or unhighlight) it; you simply deactivate it for the time being. The option remains visible in the menu list, and available for reselection (rehighlighting) another day.

The second "full definition" of deselect at MWO is clearer and more accurate, in my opinion: "to cause (something previously selected) to no longer be selected in a software interface {deselect the songs you don't want to hear}.

  • That might be simply a function of how MWO is interpreting "removing from a list". Aug 21 '14 at 1:00
  • True, true... but the dictionary's "full definition" of deselect is much clearer and more accurate: "1 : DISMISS, REJECT 2 : to cause (something previously selected) to no longer be selected in a software interface (deselect the songs you don't want to hear}." I was so taken with the mismatch between what I expected to find and the prominently displayed not-full definition that I didn't notice the better treatment underneath.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 21 '14 at 1:13
  • Thanks for bringing up your point about the dictionary's interpretive intent, Matt Gutting. I've altered my answer to include the better "full definition" that appears on the same page of MWO that I cited originally.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 21 '14 at 1:22
  • 3
    Selecting and deselecting are different from highlighting and unhighlighting. It is the case that a selection is often highlighted as well - precisely to show that it is selected, but the two concepts are logically distinct.
    – Drew
    Aug 21 '14 at 4:38

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