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While attempting to assist another user on another Stack Exchange site I stumbled upon this marketing page for the Samsung SSD 850 EVO that—to my mind—oddly states:

Untap your computer’s potential

Shouldn’t that be:

Unleash your computer’s potential

Or perhaps just use “tap” like this:

Tap your computer’s potential

That “untap” seems like a badly used un-word in that copy. And not for nothing that same page—in a callout near the top left—uses “unleash” to state a similar marketing sentiment:

Unleash the power of performance and endurance.

I searched through the Merriam-Webster dictionary for untap and it states, “The word you've entered isn't in the dictionary.” Yet, a search for “untapped” yields a definition; but again nothing for “untap.” And results for the Cambridge Dictionary similarly show nothing for “untap” but shows a result for “untapped.”

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    It is a weird mishmash that seems to try to give the reader a sense of some "untapped potential." But "untap the potential" means exactly the opposite; you want to be tapped into this hidden power for as long as you can. – user143977 Aug 14 '16 at 19:29
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    "Untapped" is a perfectly standard adjective (which might describe the computer's potential before Samsung did something to it), but the OPs first example looks like an instance of "verbing weirds language". Life would be dull if there were no Japanese computer documentation to read, though. – alephzero Aug 14 '16 at 21:04
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    @alephzero “Life would be dull if there were no Japanese computer documentation to read, though.” Might not be what you meant, but Samsung is a South Korean company. – JakeGould Aug 14 '16 at 21:20
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    Maybe the author was a Magic: The Gathering player? Where untapping something makes its abilities ready for reuse. – Benjamin Lindley Aug 14 '16 at 21:54
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    Just for those saying they haven't seen examples: one from the Washington Post and a letter from the Wall Street Journal – curiousdannii Aug 15 '16 at 13:03
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"Untap" does not seem to be a commonly used word.

Most dictionaries I've looked at do not have an entry for a verb untap, although they do for the adjective untapped, which is actually an antonym of "unleashed." I think "untapped" is commonly used in the collocation "untapped potential." It's similar to how unopened exists as an adjective, but there is no corresponding verb "to unopen" (although unopen apparently has been used as an adjective meaning "closed").

So I agree that this is badly worded. A more usual way to phrase this would be "Tap into your computer's potential."

In general, the prefix un- seems to be attached more commonly to adjectives (including ones derived from past participles like "tapped" or "opened") than to verbs. Bea Bonmot's answer to the following question "Prefixes for Perishable" cites Ben Zimmer's article "The Un-Believable Un-Verb," which says that according to Yale linguist Laurence Horn, the verb prefix un- actually is derived in part from a different historical source, "the reversative prefix on(d)- (related to German ent- and Greek anti-)." Colin Fine's answer to the following question "'Unselect' or 'Deselect'?" says

Until quite recently, the "un-" prefix for verbs was pretty much limited to what Whorf called the "cryptotype" of verbs to do with fastening, wrapping, enclosing: "unlock, unwind, unwrap, unstrap, unfasten, untie, unlatch, unroll" - there were a very few exceptions like "unsay" (which is highly literary). [...] The adjectival prefix "un-" is a different matter, and has long been very widely applicable.

The meaning of the prefixed verb "to untap" (in the sense of "to unleash") fits in fairly well with the prefixed verbs above, but the meaning of the unprefixed verb tap does not fit in very well with the unprefixed verbs of "fastening, wrapping, enclosing."

The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for the verb untap, but it is not defined and has only two examples, both from the seventeenth century:

1622 J. Mabbe tr. M. Alemán Rogue ii. 229 If I should suffer her still to vntap my vessel, she would suck me dry at last.
1689 N. Lee Princess of Cleve ii. iii, Does not your Politician,..after all his Plotting, Drudging and Sweating at Lying, retire to some little Punk and untap at Night?

It says it is derived from the verb tap and the senses 7 and 9 of the prefix un-:


7. With rare exceptions, the Old English verbs in un- are transitive, and this has always remained the prevailing use. In Middle English, however, intransitive uses of some common words are found, as unbend, unclose, unlouk, and in casual formations as unbody. In the later language the usage increases to some extent (as in unfold, etc.), but is chiefly confined to words having some currency.
[...]
9. The redundant use of un- is rare, but occurs in Old English unlíesan, and Middle English unloose, which has succeeded in maintaining itself. Later instances are unbare, unsolve, unstrip (16–17th cent.), and the modern dialect forms unempt(y), unrid, unthaw (also locally uneave). Another redundant or extended use (= ‘peel off’) exists in unpeel v.

So one existing verb with similar semantics to untap is unloose, which is basically synonymous to loosen. There has already been a question on ELU about unpeel: "Is "unpeeling an orange" grammatically correct?" The following question about undust also seems relevant: "Dust vs. Undust?"

Also, here is a Language Log post with a lot of relevant links: "Why do thaw and unthaw mean the same thing?"

  • All these un- verbs reminds me of "unbreak" and "uncry", but it seems almost any verb denoting an action that is naturally reversible can be prepended with un- or de-. – Malvolio Aug 15 '16 at 0:25
  • This good question has 2 CV for lack of research. The good answers show that it is not an easy and straitforward issue, plus OP question actually makes some informed points on what they are asking. Should the question be put on hold,anyway? Are close voter probably too zealous and too anxious to see this question put on hold? – user66974 Aug 15 '16 at 5:06
  • 'although unopen apparently has been used as an adjective meaning "closed"' - it might be just me but unopened jar would be a jar which was never opened while closed jar would be jar which was opened and then closed. – Maciej Piechotka Aug 16 '16 at 0:07
  • Considering it's for an SSD, a product marketed to a particular group, perhaps 'tap' here is instead referring to its use in the card game Magic: The Gathering. In that game, 'tap' is a synonym for 'exhaust'; a 'tapped' card cannot be used. 'Untapping' therefore has a positive connotation, and the copywriter for this ad didn't bother looking up what 'tap' actually means. – Merus Aug 16 '16 at 4:04
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There's a lot going on here. Both verbs have an un- prefix, in the sense of 'remove'; unleash means 'remove the leash' and untap means 'remove the tap'. In either case, some encumbrance is released.

If you untap a container of fluid, the fluid comes out; if you unleash a dog, the dog is freed.
So far, so much the same.

However, tap and leash are also verbs without un-, and they mean quite different things.
If you tap a container of fluid, the fluid comes out; if you leash a dog, the dog is constrained.

So unleash is the opposite of leash, but untap is not the opposite of tap.
The use of untap seems limited to metaphorical contexts; it's rare to talk about "untapping a new barrel" in a bar; one would use tap for the physical activity.

But metaphorically, ...

  • Untap your secret powers!
  • Tap your inner strength!

(or vice versa) sound equally good (or bad, depending on tastes).

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    So if you untap your untapped resources are they tapped or untapped? – Hot Licks Aug 14 '16 at 22:06
  • Ask your guru; I wouldn't know. – John Lawler Aug 14 '16 at 22:27
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    Native American English speaker here and I've never heard or read untap used like this. Do you have any references for this? – Todd Wilcox Aug 15 '16 at 0:31
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    In fact I have never ever seen the "verb" untap before, except in the context of Magic the Gathering. – Aron Aug 15 '16 at 3:38
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    'Untap' is not limited to metaphorical use; maple trees are routinely tapped and untapped. – JEL Aug 17 '16 at 18:53
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It's a mistake. The writer doesn't know the definition of "tap" that could apply here and is too focused on creating an image of released power to care.

Lack of knowledge and disregard for the tools of the trade can result in disaster in most contexts, but here it merely makes a fool of the "writer," who probably still won't care.

On the bright side, it's a phenomenon that results in ridiculous non-words that we CAN choose to find amusing. Two of my personal favorites: When I went to my first sewing class, I was told to bring a seam-ripper in case I ever needed to "unpick" something I had sewn. As well, I know people who plan their evening meals around what is in freezer that they can "unthaw" after getting home from work.

Grrrrr or giggles; this one seems harmless so far.

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    Yes; my current favorite is the verb you get from the adjective undefeated. The question is what (for example) Trump will undefeat Clinton (or vice versa) could possibly mean. Especially this year. – John Lawler Aug 14 '16 at 21:24
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"Untap" is being inappropriately used in the quoted line.

To "tap" (in this sense) is to to

draw out, from, or upon: tap new sources of revenue, the story taps powerful emotions MW

The most familiar use of the term (in the US) in this sense is to tap a maple tree (drill a hole in it) to extract its sap.

Thus, an untapped resource is one which has not yet been somehow utilized. Saying "Untap your computer's potential" is a bit of nonsense implying that you should do nothing to unleash the device's capabilities.

(It's likely that many folks are confused by beer kegs -- not the stuff within them but the kegs themselves. A "virgin" keg conceptually has no hole in the side, and it is necessary to "tap" (drill) it -- similar to tapping a tree -- to access the fluid inside. What confuses things is that the thing inserted into the hole is then often referred to as a "tap", leading folks to believe that "untap" means to remove a plug from the hole, when in reality "untapped" means that there is no hole.)

As to the suggestion that the prefix un- can legitimately be used as a sort of intensifier, I'll point out that, while unloosed is pretty much never used as an adjective to mean "not yet loosed", untapped is used with the meaning "not yet tapped" with considerable frequency. To use the word in essentially the opposite sense is inviting confusion and is to be (strongly) discouraged.

The line should have said "Tap your computer's potential", though "Unleash ..." would probably sound better. Likely its author conflated "untap" and "unleash".

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Yes, untap has the sense of unleash.

As you point out, the word doesn't appear in any online dictionary referenced by oneLook, except Urban Dictionary, which lists a usage that is unrelated to either tap or (un)leash.

An Ngram search indicates that untap is rarely used, but when it is used, it's normally used in the sense of unleash. It's also often related to mental potential. Here are a few examples:

Here's another example from a web search, also related to potential:

  • Untap your potential, get the full experience - untap.it

The last site includes Sir Richard Branson, a prominent businessman, as its Ambassadorial President.

Based on the above, it would be reasonable for a business advertisement to use the term untap in the sense of unleasing some kind of potential.

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