12

Why I'm asking

@Xanne asks "Does this really have to do with the English language?" Yes. I seek an English language verb. If you, dear reader, find it confusing that the following mentions another language, please imagine this other language is Martian and I'm just trying to describe a thing that happens on Mars, but is known to also occur on Earth, to someone unfamiliar with Martian but familiar with English.

If, in a computer programming language, one writes:

Basket-One    =  list   loaf, cabbage, pineapple ;
Basket-Two    =  list   Basket-One ;
Basket-Three  =  item   Basket-One ;

then the result is that:

  • Basket-One is a list containing three items;

  • So is Basket-Two;

  • Basket-Three contains one item, the item Basket-One.

According to the programming language's documentation explaining this feature, Basket-Three contains just one item because the term item in item Basket-One ('item' in this context is unambiguously a technical term) has the effect of "itemizing" Basket-One.

This usage of "itemizing" occurs in what I consider an English prose context (tutorial documentation describing the programming language feature). But it seems like it has the exact opposite meaning to the English usage I'm familiar with. It's not clear if "itemizing" in this context is being used as a technical term or a regular English term, but either way, the goal of this question is to find a replacement English language word that doesn't have the weird characteristic of potentially/actually meaning the exact opposite of the technical meaning.

What I've found

Consider the two dictionary.com definitions of "itemize":

1. list the individual units or parts of

2. list as an item or separate part

I'm thinking that:

  • Definition #1 is about immediately and "severally" listing the component parts of a composite thing.

  • Definition #2 is about immediately listing only one item, the composite thing.

Main Question

1. What's the best word for denoting "treat as a single item" in the specific context I describe?

But to help clarify what I'm asking, I'll present some more questions. (If someone has time, I'd appreciate answers to some/all of these more detailed questions, but they are subsidiary to my formal question.)

  • Do most native English speakers recognize two (or more) meanings for "itemize"? Is one meaning dominant and the other(s) rare? What about non-native speakers?

  • Do you think I'm right about the meaning of the second dictionary.com definition? If not, what is the meaning of the second definition?

  • Are there yet more definitions of "itemize" beyond the two that dictionary.com lists?

  • Am I right that the meaning of dictionary.com's second definition emerged from usage of "itemize" in instructions on US (or UK?) tax forms?

  • Does the second definition always imply that the first definition also applies to the composite object, just elsewhere than the immediate listing context?

Non-exhaustive candidate list

Assuming that English definitions of "itemize" contradict the usage I've covered in Why I'm asking, what do you think that better single word might best be:

  • itemify

  • itemate

  • item

  • individualize

  • singlify (a neologism I just made up)

  • scalarize

  • some-other-word?

    "To emphasize the need to treat a potentially composite thing as a single item, when a common thing would be to treat that composite thing as the list of constituent items that comprise it, ________ it".

Thank you in advance for any and all answers or comments. :)

  • 7
    (A) Extremely well-posed question; would that more were asked like this. (B) I'm a big fan of Perl6. (C) In other languages I'm a fan of, in particular the APL family, the term for this operation is box or enclose (a subtle distinction between those two terms is that language which use box let you box anything; languages which use enclose typically make enclosing an already-scalar value a no-op). – Dan Bron Aug 5 '17 at 16:36
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    I'm going to bounty this question as soon as it's eligible. – Dan Bron Aug 5 '17 at 16:37
  • 2
    Does this really have to do with the English language? – Xanne Aug 5 '17 at 16:52
  • 2
    The only sense in which I use, or am familiar with, itemise is list as individual items. Usually in the context of itemised bills. – BoldBen Aug 5 '17 at 16:55
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    Item and list are suitable English words for what you describe. You do not provide a sentence in which to use the word or words. You have a list of five questions; the basic rule is one question per question. – Xanne Aug 5 '17 at 23:19

12 Answers 12

4

Do most native English speakers recognize two (or more) meanings for "itemize"? Is one meaning dominant and the other(s) rare? What about non-native speakers?

At least here in the U.S., I think most speakers would recognize a sense — call it 'sense A' — whereby the direct object is a singular noun denoting a totality that can be broken down into items, as when we itemize a list or a receipt (or, obviously, a plural noun denoting multiple such totalities).

I also think most U.S. speakers would recognize a sense — call it 'sense B' — whereby the direct object is a plural noun denoting such a totality, as when we itemize our expenses or our tax deductions — not necessarily because this is a distinct sense, but simply because it's perfectly natural in English to use a plural noun to refer to a single totality. (For example, "he shared his M&Ms with her" does not mean that they shared each individual M&M!)

Some U.S. speakers would also recognize a sense — call it 'sense C' — whereby the direct object is a singular noun denoting an item resulting from breaking down such a totality (or, obviously, a plural noun denoting multiple such items), as when we itemize a certain tax deduction. I think this sense originated as a backformation from the second sense; speakers who have this sense would probably be surprised that I felt the need to distinguish it from that one. But personally, I find this sense rather awkward, and Google searches suggest that it's quite rare compared to the others.


Do you think I'm right about the meaning of the second dictionary.com definition? If not, what is the meaning of the second definition?

That definition sounds like it's trying to define sense C, but since sense C seems to be quite rare, and the example sentence works perfectly for sense B, my best guess is that it's trying to define sense B in a way that also works for sense C.

In either case, I don't think it covers the usage you give as your motivation, since that usage does not involve breaking down a totality.


Are there yet more definitions of "itemize" beyond the two that dictionary.com lists?

Well, you've given a usage that's apparently a different sense: "itemize" meaning "create an 'item' from". :-)


Am I right that the meaning of dictionary.com's second definition emerged from usage of "itemize" in instructions on US (or UK?) tax forms?

If their definition refers to my sense B, then I doubt it.

If it refers to sense C, then I don't know, but it would certainly make sense: "itemize" is accounting jargon, and tax forms are most Americans' greatest source of exposure to accounting jargon. It's very common, in all fields, for non-specialists to adopt jargon and use it in related ways that specialists might feel strange about.


Does the second definition always imply that the first definition also applies to the composite object, just elsewhere than the immediate listing context?

I'm sorry, I don't understand this question.


[…] what do you think that better single word might best be: ¶ […]

This question is probably too subjective for this site, but personally I think any of your suggestions would be fine. Another option is to introduce a hyphen ("item-ize").

  • 1
    I loved "item-ize". I searched to see if anyone had suggested "item-ize" on #perl6 (a channel started in 2005 that's dedicated to the programming language). I didn't find that -- but I did find in 2011 TimToady noted the usual English meaning of "itemize" means something like "items-ize". Anyway, "item-ize" is the front runner afaiac. I currently plan to suggest s/itemize/item-ize/ to P6 folk when I next have time to edit the doc that currently uses "itemize". So, one more time, thanks. :) – raiph Aug 6 '17 at 2:45
  • @raiph: Glad I could help! :-) – ruakh Aug 6 '17 at 17:21
8

If you're looking for a word that means to treat a collection of items as a single item in a separate collection, there are various options that might be less ambiguous than itemize. However, in a computer science context, some of these words have already been adopted with other technical meanings, so you'd want to consider each option carefully.

All definitions from Oxford English Dictionary:

  • Aggregate

v. To gather into one whole or mass; to collect together, assemble; to mass.

The thing to be careful about with aggregate is that it has a somewhat different technical definition in data science, where it can refer to functions such as sum or average.

  • Agglomerate

v. To gather (separate particles or elements) together into a single mass or group; to collect in an unassimilated or disorderly way; to cluster, heap, or bind together.

This word would be a fine choice if you don't mind that it's a little clunkier than itemize.

  • Coalesce

v. To bring together, merge; to combine (parts or elements) to form one whole.

Coalesce would be an excellent option that clearly expresses the meaning you're looking for. In some cases, it might be confusing in a Computer Science context only if it were mistaken for other uses of the word, such as the coalesce function in SQL.

If you're looking for a term that's concise and clear, any of the following words would fit your needs as well.

  • Lump

v. To put altogether in one ‘lump’, mass, sum, or group, without discrimination or regard for particulars or details; to take, consider, or deal with ‘in the lump’.

  • Group

v. To bring together as a group, to make a group of; to position (people or things) close together so as to form a collective unity. Also with together.

  • Fuse

v. 1.c. fig. Often with the sense: To blend intimately, amalgamate, unite into one whole, as by melting together.

  • Thanks for answering. :) Lump is a contender. My example sentence (near the end of my question) says "treat a potentially composite thing...". Note potentially. It might just be a simple single value like 42. The operation needs to communicate a sense of total agnosticism about the underlying singularity / plurality of the thing. Is it singular? Plural? Who knows? It must not matter. With the very notable exception of "Lump", all your suggestions strongly imply an underlying plurality and I want to avoid that. That said, I'll lump "Lump" in with other candidates. :) – raiph Aug 7 '17 at 18:23
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    @Ralph — It only matters what you think in terms of your accepting an answer. The "best" answer may not be the one you prefer, especially if English is not your native language. The way SE works is that users vote on answers so other uses can identify candidates if they have the same question. I personally do not like "lump". It is too slangy and needs a preposition (together). – David Aug 7 '17 at 19:17
3

I say there's no need to reinvent the wheel here. English is rich enough that you are going to have too many available options, so you are better off picking one that is actually in current usage by computer scientists.

In Perl jargon, you'd say that item references Basket-one, or that Basket-Three is a reference to Basket-one. You could also use pointer-based jargon: "pointer", "points to", etc.

For starters, see the Wikipedia entry on Indirection or Chapter 8 of the Camel book. But I am sure you will find a large number of candidate English words if you delve into the actual technical literature.

  • item doesn't create a reference if its argument is a scalar. For example, item item item 42 is 42. The three Basket-* symbols in my (terrible, sorry) example code are each declared and bound to their own array (mutable list) prior to the code I show. After the assignment to Basket-Three its array has one element. That element is a Scalar container. That Scalar container contains (a reference to) the array that Basket-One refers to. The closest equivalent to item in current usage may be an APL2 "floating enclose". – raiph Aug 9 '17 at 8:10
  • @raiph that's interesting. Which language is this anyways? I think it's quite natural (done in natural languages all the time) to have an operator that performs formally different operations depending on what its arguments are. for the sake of documentation, usually I see the "canonical" use of an operator covered in the introductory parts, then the full story gets revealed gradually later on. – jlovegren Aug 10 '17 at 0:46
  • Do you remember how, starting around 12 years ago, Larry Wall started responding to people asking him when Perl 6 would be released by saying it would be released by Christmas -- he just wasn't willing to say which year? The official year turned out to be 2015. – raiph Aug 11 '17 at 6:32
3
+250

Main Question

I think that bundle, to "tie or roll up (a number of things) together as though into a parcel" might fit the bill.

Regarding the two meanings of "itemize"

  1. list the individual units or parts of

  2. list as an item or separate part

I agree with your interpretation of the first definition, and if I am right in believing that you are saying that the second definition means to "include (an item) in a list," I agree with the second as well.

As a native English speaker, I think that rather than having a dominant and secondary definition, the meaning of "itemize" is dependent on its direct object. If you used "itemize" with a singular direct object, which typically is comprised of many parts (e.g. a list, collection, or inventory), I would take it to mean that you listed the individual components of it.

She itemized the warehouse inventory.

-> a list of items in the warehouse.

If you said that you itemized multiple objects, which typically are not broken down into parts in a meaningful way (e.g. grocery purchases, warehouse items), I would interpret that usage to mean that you created some sort of list where those objects were the listed items.

He itemized the office supplies.

-> a list of office supplies.

Finally, if you said that you itemized multiple objects, which typically are composed of many things (e.g. receipts), it would be ambiguous. Did you create a list of each time you went shopping, multiple lists that each listed all of the items from a specific shopping trip, or a master list of all of the items you had bought? More context would be needed.

I itemized the receipts.

-> ?

  • I thought the second dictionary.com definition for "itemize" meant "include (an item) in a list", yes, though also with some optional extra stuff that I've since decided was a flight of fancy on my part. – raiph Aug 10 '17 at 0:50
  • Your analysis seems very compelling to me. It covers with clarity various singular/plural and contextual subtleties that I half understood, and ends with exactly the sort of unresolvable ambiguity that I found especially intriguing (from an interest in English perspective) and problematic (from the perspective of using the word "itemize" for the context I described). I've already accepted another answer but thoroughly appreciate yours too. :) – raiph Aug 10 '17 at 0:56
3

My proposed list, so far:

• singularize

• unitize

• corral

• containerize

I can see how the word, “itemize” can go either direction:

a. to separate a grouping into individual items.

b. to assemble many items into a single unit.

With your objective being to find a word whose meaning is “b” only (and not “a”), the transitive verb that unambiguously means to take all that is at hand and assemble it all into a single item is, "Singularize."

1 to Singularize

to make singular

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/singularize

In your effort to create the perfect word -- for lack of being able to identify one that already exists, you made up the word: "singlify (a neologism I just made up)."

If you believe you've accurately communicated what you are trying to accomplish, that is, to find an English word -- not a programming word -- that communicates to the reader that you want him/her to take what is at hand and to "treat (whatever is there) as a single item," then I propose that the one word that does exactly that -- and nothing else -- is "Singularize."

Your question: "What's the best word for denoting 'treat as a single item' in the specific context I describe?"

Any number of words can be agreed upon to mean what you say you want it to mean, but in addition to meaning what you want it to mean you, more importantly, need for it to instantly communicates what it needs to communicate when it is used in the context you have in mind -- without need for any explanation.

"Singularize" does that, and only that.

Here are some additional words that can be agreed upon to mean what you say you need the English word to mean. But none of them unambiguously communicates its meaning without need for explanation the way "Singularize" does.

2 to Corral

One of three closely related definitions given by online dictionary, MacMillanDictionary.com for the verb, ”Corral,” is: “to put a person or an animal in a place they cannot leave.”

That is definition number 2 of 3.

a. to move horses, cows, etc. into a corral

b. to put a person or animal in a place they cannot leave: shut in, imprison, confine...

c. to organize a group of people and persuade them to do something We were corralled into helping him.

http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/corral_1


Other verbs that come to mind are:

3 to Unitize

form into a single unit by combining parts into a whole.

(from Online Google Dictionary)

4 to Containerize

to pack in containers

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/containerize

  • All interesting choices. Thanks. :) Containerize is especially close. What item does in the programming language is to "enclose" a single value (like 42) or an object representing a thing with an underlying singular nature (like a Loaf) or a thing with an underlying plural nature (like a Shopping-List) in a Scalar (single item) "container". – raiph Aug 9 '17 at 4:41
2

If that has an answer then it’s prolly reached by re-phrasing … denoting "treat as a single item" as … denoting “verb form of noun for things treated a single item"

Near candidates might include group or combine, as … denoting “group”

Remembering that … might best be need not include … might well be, neither itemify nor individualize sound bad and singlify sounds promising.

It’s true that if itemise wasn’t already taken, the structure of any word formed from a noun and ending …ise might fit your bill.

It’s also true that your Why I’m asking makes about as much sense as it might to a Martian and that your specific context is artificial.

In 60 years of listening, I’ve never noticed anyone using either of those dictionary.com definitions, unless units or parts were clearly synonyms of items.

I don’t see where you got, or why you mention immediately, or why it might matter if your list was made tomorrow or next week, nor how things in a list could but be several.

I do think list as an item or separate part means broadly make part of a list; not at all listing only one item, the composite thing.

Since you asked not about English but about a computer language it doesn’t matter, does it? What’s the reason you shouldn’t coin your own verb, such as grouple or combone?

  • I seek a term to be used informally in ordinary English prose (in blog posts etc.) that describes this programming language feature. Coining a new term would work but would very much be an absolute last resort. – raiph Aug 9 '17 at 3:52
  • I did a pretty poor job with my question in all sorts of ways. One of them was accidentally implying that I sought a word for treating something as a single item when that something was a plural thing. Instead I seek a word for treating something as a single item regardless of whether it's actually a single or plural thing. "group", to a lesser degree, and "combine", to a greater degree, imply their object is a plural thing being treated as a singular thing. Writing that item 42 means "itemizing 42" is actually OK but writing that it means "combining 42" is especially awkward. – raiph Aug 9 '17 at 3:57
1

The two (or three) definitions differ primarily in the underlined assumption concerning the ratio of the number of items mentioned to the amount of items belonging to the set or list in question. One member may illustrate the set or being an example, the same is true for any number of items mentioned, as long as their number is less than the size of the set. If the set's size is equal to the number of mentioned items, the items are the definition and the list is an enumeration.

As soon as you itemize your income sources for the tax calculation, you define the set by itemizing each source. The same is done on the other side, assuming the list you created is not just illustrative, but complete. No difference means no problem.

In fact the only difference of interest is wether a list has to be assumed to be complete or being only of illustrative value. Everything else depends on the perspective. The task of itemizing is the same in either case. The number of cases may differ, as well as the size of the sets, the only relevant fact is, whether or not the list is complete.

If you want to be on the safe side, let the people understand what you mean, rather than to proof that they should have had the chance to realize what you're intention might have been, once later on.

  • The statement above has been made assuming the german term 'aufzählen' would have more or less the same meaning as 'to itemize'. I might be wrong. If so, please ignore my post. – Andreas Kummer Aug 8 '17 at 20:33
  • Thank you for answering. :) "If you want to be on the safe side, let the people understand what you mean, rather than to proof that they should have had the chance to realize what you're intention might have been, once later on." I think I understand this bit but I'm not sure. You're just saying that it's best to err on the side of explaining why you've itemized something on a tax form or why you haven't, right? – raiph Aug 9 '17 at 4:32
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It's not clear if "itemizing" in this context is being used as a technical term or a regular English term

In the given context, it should be a technical term that describes 'something processed using the item operator'. This is not a receipt that you're itemizing for individual price details - if the keyword was delete then you'd use deleting instead. So it comes down to the definition of item which is clearly a technical one as you said.

What's the best word for denoting “treat as a single item”

Among the answers so far, and especially as it relates to the English meaning of itemize; RaceAnyTime's suggestion of the word group is simple, well-known and a very clear choice imho.

... in this specific context?

Well, your meaning is actually 'processing using the item keyword' which is a technical operation itself. You have commented elsewhere that I seek a word for treating something as a single item regardless of whether it's actually a single or plural thing.

A group(n.) can refer to a single item too as an English word, but usually does imply multiple members at some point - e.g. he was the only one left of their group in the neighborhood.

In conclusion, I don't think there is a suitable non-technical single word that fully conveys your intended meaning.

  • Consider if a reader could know that XXXing is a technical term. The context is English blog posts, English doc, etc. Readers must assume terms are generally consistent with English unless there's a cue that a term may contradict English. If, given a technical term item, writers vary it to fit present participle position in English text, but don't indicate it's a technical term, then readers who don't know otherwise will naturally think these words do not contradict the analogy implied by their English meaning. Thus, imo, item-izing or itemizing are OK but itemizing is not. – raiph Aug 12 '17 at 15:48
  • @raiph: itemizing are OK but itemizing is not - you want to italicize the word to indicate a different meaning in blog posts? Also, I never disagreed that itemizing is not a good choice here - but a neologism like item-ize may not be understood either; hence my conclusion that I can't think of a SWR answer (i.e. you might be better off using descriptive phrases instead). – Alok Aug 12 '17 at 16:21
  • I ran out of room in my comment. :) I mean "could be OK". Consider "The initial assignment to the Washer_Dryer_Parts_List variable itemizes Washing_Machine_Parts_List and Dryer_ Parts_List.". Other than the fact item is a technical term, there's no clue that "itemizes" is a technical term, one that means the opposite of what you'd think it meant based on the English meaning. But one could at least preface English prose with "words in italics are technical terms" or disambiguate by following the above sentence with "This means that Washer_Dryer_Parts_List now contains two elements". – raiph Aug 12 '17 at 16:45
1

To emphasize the need to treat a potentially composite thing as a single item, when a common thing would be to treat that composite thing as the list of constituent items that comprise it, consolidate it.

Consolidate

1: to join together into one whole : unite consolidate several small school districts
2: to make firm or secure : strengthen consolidate their hold on first place He consolidated his position as head of the political party.
3: to form into a compact mass

"Consolidate." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2017.

Consolidate focuses on the action, and avoids really saying anything about how you are going to treat the result in future. You are free to treat the result as a mass, or as an assemblage of identifiable bits. And you are free to reverse the process.

0

I would suggest the terms to enumerate and to illustrate as more precise variants, as they both recommend a common implication to be applied. An enumeration is complete by definition, whereas an illustrative itemization is not.

0

As English is not my mother tongue, I might not be the best reference, however, from a programmer's perspective - yes, guilty, I am one of them - the difference between the semantics mentioned is not that relevant as supposed.

To itemize might have something in focus, but to itemize clears the situation anyway (or neither nor), as it defines the set on one hand and the affiliation on the other. The result may be interpreted one or the other way, but to itemize seems - to me at least - to segregate items of the set in question, from the items not belonging to the set. For me it looks more like the difference between singular and plural; somehow principal, while the options are not on the opposite of each other.

To explicitly include or exclude an item in or from a list may change the meaning of the statement, but not the semantics of the word itemize. When the task is to itemize, then the result is an incomplete list of items sharing a set of properties of the same values. From the perspective of an item, it means affiliation or exclusion, furthermore, it is the result of the set's definition or otherwise a part of it. Either itemization is a part of an enumeration (i.e part of the definition) or of a segregation, while not necessarily being complete, neither as a definition of a set nor as a characterization of the set's items.

I don't know a better word, but it might help to find one, if you point out the context, rather than what it is not. There might be other interpretations, the ones I am aware of are... Segregation, explanation, and definition, as well as everything in between.

In my view, itemizing seems to be located somewhere between answering, telling and explaining, depending on the context.

Alternatives, depending on the context are: segregation, separation, classification, explanation, definition, enumeration and falsification (as a special case of not being part of a set). There might be others and I may be on the wrong side.

In German, the equivalent term is 'aufzählen'. It means to mention members of a set, but not necessarily all of them. If the list is complete, then the members are most often part of the set's definition, an enumeration so. Otherwise, the mentioned members characterize the items mentioned or they are examples of the items that are part of the set.

0

To emphasize the need to treat a potentially composite thing as a single item, when a common thing would be to treat that composite thing as the list of constituent items that comprise it, adjunct to it".

To emphasize the need to treat a potentially composite thing as a single item, when a common thing would be to treat that composite thing as the list of constituent items that comprise it, identify it".

To emphasize the need to treat a potentially composite thing as a single item, when a common thing would be to treat that composite thing as the list of constituent items that comprise it, represent it".

protected by MetaEd Aug 17 '17 at 17:10

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