I still do not know whether to use the word ‘generic’ or ‘general’ in this context. The context may be a little esoteric as it refers to ‘CSS’ (a styling-related computer coding language) and is difficult to explain, but I will try my best. It’s for a book.

Essentially, the general/generic word will be used in a heading — either ‘Generic-to-specific’ or ‘General-to-specific’. The content that follows underneath the heading will try to convey this message: “start by styling non-specific elements first and then style more specific elements”. So style the main parts first, then the specific parts later. Another example: if you were to style a sentence, start with the things that affect the entire sentence first (e.g. the font), and then style the more specific parts (e.g. underline one of the words). I hope this conveys the gist of what I'm trying to say.

When you are trying to describe something as non-specific, would this be referred to as general or generic? I've seen multiple topics describe general as the opposite of specific, and generic as the opposite of specific, like here for example: What's the difference between "general" and "generic"? — presumably it can't be both?

I hope I’ve explained this well enough as the context feels difficult to explain. After reading up on this I still do not know which word to use. Any insight would be very helpful.

  • 3
    Your top-down approach moves from general rules to specific ones. Generic mostly serves as an antonym for brand name. Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 22:43
  • 1
    Generic has a specific meaning in semantics, and this isn't it. General is the term you want. Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 22:48
  • I think that 'global and 'local' describe your situations described better. Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 12:55
  • thank you all - I will use general-to-specific Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 13:15

1 Answer 1


The word “general” means applying to the most typical members of a class, but not necessarily applicable to every specific member. The word “generic” refers to a class in which all members share a contextually relevant feature, even though there may be other features in which they differ.

A “general” statement is one that applies broadly to a class and is likely to be true of the clear majority of the members of the class. A “generic” statement applies to the class as a whole and to every member of the class, but is useless in differentiating the members of the class.

Fonts are generally applicable to all words in a sentence, but there may be a word or two that uses a different version of the font for some reason, such as italics or underlining. This is general to specific. You could say: choose a font to select the general appearances of the words, and then choose bold, underlying, and/or italics to select specific features of the font.

The word “font” is a generic reference to a style of characters that include specific styles such as Times Roman, which is specific type of font. You could also say, “select the generic font that will apply to the text, and then select the specific features of the font desired, such as bold, italics, or underlining.

Using precise language, I would prefer talking about going from the general appearance of the text to the appearance of specific words or choosing the specific font or general appearance desired for the text and then talking about the specific attributes (such as underlining, etc.) desired.

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