I am working with a large open source software project whose code base has to be GNU Public License version 2 (GPLv2). We have to make sure that the "stuff" that goes into the project from our volunteer contributors has a license that is compatible with the project. I am setting up an issue tracker to track potential problems. The most severe problems are currently tagged with the word "Violation" and the guide for contributors explains it like this:

Violation: This means that the problem with your contribution is regarded as unequivocal and that immediate action to repair the situation is requested. A contribution with a public license that is not compatible with the GPLv2 will typically have this component, as will a contribution that illegally bundles files belonging to a 3rd party (i.e. bundles such files without permission).

Objections has been raised and another word has to replace "Violation". Quote:

"Violation" assumes malintent. I would expect contributors to react defensively/combatively if they're pointed to a tracker about their contribution with the word "violation" in it. It is more than likely that they are merely confused by the GPL's litany of rules, not intentionally trying to get away with cheating.

I would like to keep the guidance text, but replace the word "Violation" with something less hostile.

That is, the replacement word should not imply, but not completely rule out, malintent.

If possible, the word should be a noun, and it should convey that the problem is not open for discussion, and that some action on part of the contributor is required (all this is probably too much to ask of a single word, but I hope it indicates what I am looking for).

I did an online search for synonyms before asking here, and ended up with the following list: abuse, contravention, encroachment, infraction, infringement, misdemeanor, negligence, offense, transgression - all of which sound too hostile for my use case.

  • What did a thesaurus suggest and what did not suffice there? Infringement?
    – Mitch
    Jun 25, 2015 at 12:38
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    @FreeRadical It could be that there is no non-hostile variant, either because there's a gap that hasn't been filled, or because the concept itself is negative and there's no alternative. Usually there are euphemistic ways of saying many negative things but they eventually become negative themselves, slipping down the euphemism treadmill.
    – Mitch
    Jun 25, 2015 at 12:48
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    (by the way, I think 'infringement' isn't hostile and doesn't assume any intent by the committer.)
    – Mitch
    Jun 25, 2015 at 12:52
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    Your whole question is predicated on a faulty understanding of the word "violation". "Breaking the terms of a law" implies malintent as much as falling through a glass window (breaking the glass) implies malintent. Jun 25, 2015 at 13:34
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    @CanisLupus, you may be right, but that's irrelevant here. My job is to make an issue tracking system without pissing off our contributors. I am not tasked with educating them so that they correctly understand the word "violation". Jun 25, 2015 at 13:38

15 Answers 15


Noncompliance should work here.


  1. Compatible with or following guidelines, specifications, rules, or laws. (Wiktionary)

The browser is standards compliant.

The workplace is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

EDIT: To further reduce the linguistic baggage, you could tag it noncompliant-code. That way, it's unambiguously clear to the contributors that it's their code that's noncompliant. Not them.

  • +1 for this suggestion. It is certainly better than "Violation", but it carries some negative vibes: Webster offers this example: "a perpetually incompliant employee who seemed to think that the rules did not apply to him" Jun 25, 2015 at 12:38
  • @FreeRadical: Note that nonncompliant people and noncompliant software are not compliant in different senses. (#1 and #2 respectively from the wiktionary link)
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 25, 2015 at 12:40
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    Don't use wiktionary. People will (and have) put anything in there. 'incompliance' is an error. 'Noncompliance' is the word.
    – Mitch
    Jun 25, 2015 at 12:41
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    @Mitch Are we allowed to use AHDEL, Collins, M-W, Dictionary.com ... ? The ones I've mentioned all indicate that " 'incompliance' is an error" is an error. They don't even flag for 'rare'. (Though I'd choose 'noncompliance' as the more common option.) Jun 25, 2015 at 12:54
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    @EdwinAshworth There's no 'allow' here, there's just trustworthiness. In the past couple months I've seen more references to wiktionary, and many of the words referenced there seem to be words that any English teacher word use red pen on. Wiktionary says nothing about register or frequency. OED says it is rare. Also, check out my NGrams link, 'incompliance' is rare. Sometimes there really are mistakes.
    – Mitch
    Jun 25, 2015 at 13:09

Infraction is often considered less severe than violation. FindLaw:

An infraction, sometimes called a petty offense, is the violation of an administrative regulation, an ordinance, a municipal code, and, in some jurisdictions, a state or local traffic rule. In many states an infraction is not considered a criminal offense and thus not punishable by incarceration. Instead, such jurisdictions treat infractions as civil offenses.

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    While an "infraction" is indeed less severe than a "violation", I'd rather stay clear of legal terms that implies wrong-doing. Jun 25, 2015 at 14:43
  • @FreeRadical Sure, there's a balance you're trying to strike. I'm just not certain where it is. Jun 25, 2015 at 15:49
  • infraction is a legal word, regardless.
    – Lambie
    Aug 7, 2020 at 22:43

Perhaps nonconformance

a failure to conform to standard norms of behaviour


Similarly, nonconformity

Failure or refusal to conform to a prevailing rule or practice.

Oxford Dictionaries Online

The latter seems a bit more willful. (But I still like @Tushar Raj's noncompliance)


This is tricky because you are not looking for a general synonym of 'Violation', you are looking for a word that can be used as a Tag against issues that implies the issue is a "violation of agreement, nonconformance to rules and mandatory remedial action required"

I propose "Nonlicensable", being the negative of the adjectival form of the word 'License'


1 - formal permission from a governmental or other constituted authority to do something, as to carry on some business or profession.

2 - a certificate, tag, plate, etc., giving proof of such permission; official permit: a driver's license.

3 - permission to do or not to do something.


Whilst this is not a synonym of Violation, it does accurately describe the issues you are trying to tag

  • How can this word possibly mean person has done a no-no??
    – Lambie
    Aug 7, 2020 at 22:54


an unintentional failure to notice or do something

I believe making the assumption that the contributor "missed" the rule would be well received. Even if negative intent was there, the code was flagged. It still suggests that something can be done to come into compliance.

In its alternate definition, it means someone else is responsible for reviewing the submission. If an item were flagged under that connotation, it would mean that the responsible party will not assume responsibility for this portion in its current state.


As a person in this field, I typically don't see violation, as you're right, it sounds almost personal. What I normally see is something like Warning, Critical Error, Red Flag, or Action Required. Personally I would also take out the bit about "unequivocal", and maybe warn the submitter that their submission will not be processed until they fix it (if this is the case):

Critical Error: Your submission cannot be processed. Immediate action to repair the situation is requested. A contribution with a public license that is not compatible with the GPLv2 can be the cause for this error message, as will a contribution that illegally bundles files belonging to a 3rd party (i.e. bundles such files without permission).

I suppose Action Required would be the most neutral if that's what you're going for.

  • There may be other critical errors or instances where an action is required. We use "critical" to tag severity of the problem, not the type of problem. A contribution with coding bugs that break the project is tagged "critical", but its type will be "coding bug", not "violation" of project license or copyright. Jun 26, 2015 at 20:19
  • Critical error? Halt and Catch Fire. :)
    – Lambie
    Aug 7, 2020 at 22:55



An infraction or violation, as of a law, trust, faith, or promise.

(Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/breach)



You don't want to imply that the problem is the contributors' fault, but you need them to help with your problem, which is getting the license business straightened out. And you want to say that it is an urgent, critical problem for you (but not for your contributors). So you have to talk about your problem, not what they have or haven't done. You need their help urgently.



something excepted (objected to); an instance or case not conforming to the general rule. (Dictionary.com)

I would suggest calling these licensing exceptions.

  • 1
    This is a fairly neutral noun (which is good). However, an "exception" is often just noted, not acted upon. The first part of the definition, "something excepted", generally means something that is excepted from conforming. Jun 25, 2015 at 14:17
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    You need to get a dictionary and start looking words up. An exception is not necessarily accepted. The whole software world deals with exceptions handlers that do something about exceptions besides notice them. Jun 25, 2015 at 14:22
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    I am not saying that an exception is always accepted. I'm saying that the notion that something is outside the norm, but tolerated, is one of the general meanings of the term. I also find your remark about getting a dictionary unnecessarily condescending. Jun 25, 2015 at 14:37
  • something excepted is not English.
    – Lambie
    Aug 8, 2020 at 13:30


an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap: (Dictionary.com)

Eliminates the connotation of malintent completely.

Or alternatively,

Accidental Violation

Minimizes the implication of malintent.

  • But is wrong in case of an intentional violation.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 26, 2015 at 16:33


I see that in your search for synonyms the thesaurus turned up the word contravention. I'm curious as to why this doesn't fit the bill. It would have been my first choice for a noun alternative to violation. In my opinion a contravention carries much less of a connotation of malicious intent than violation. Of all the options presented here I think that it fits best.

  • It is a legal term that implies legal wrong-doing. contravention: an action which offends against a law, treaty, or other ruling. Jun 26, 2015 at 20:09

"There is a critical problem with your submission"?

"Critical" implies "must be fixed", while "problem" is about as neutral as you can get without veering into ludicrous circumlocution.

  • There may be other critical problems. We use "critical" to tag severity of the problem, not the type of problem. A contribution with coding bugs that break the project is tagged "critical", but its type will be "coding bug", not "violation" of project license or copyright. Jun 26, 2015 at 20:20

You have a situation that is unacceptable and needs to be fixed, and there is no way around this. You want a word that clearly says that. Use any of the many more "polite" words here, and after a week someone will tell you "why didn't you still accept my contribution after a week delay", after two weeks they will tell you that since it's only an infraction/contravention/exception etc. you should let it pass, and four weeks later the person actually figures out that their contribution was unacceptable and does something about it.

Being polite is very impolite if it causes inconvenience because you didn't express the seriousness of the situation.

  • We're not going to just tag it. There will also be a message attached to the issue spelling out why we're unable to accept the contribution and a very concrete requirement regarding what action the contributer needs to take (in most cases the action will be to removal of the noncompliant materials from the contribution). However, I don't want a tag that implies intentional wrongdoing on part of the contributor. Jun 26, 2015 at 19:58
  • @FreeRadical flagged issue.
    – Lambie
    Aug 8, 2020 at 13:30

Your contribution is incongruous.

Not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something:

"the duffel coat looked incongruous with the black dress she wore underneath"

Reference: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/incongruous

The word is not a common one but I believe the meaning to be quite in line with what you want to express.


Surprise Misuse.

While unlikely to be accepted by the legal team, this term (by similarity with well known "surprise [blah]" internet memes) will suggest to most technical users that the gentler term used should be considered to have a heavy negative amplifier: your actual meaning of "violation" should be clear to most.

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