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March 10th, 2020

Security grammar: Are you insecure when writing about unsecure technology?

Security grammar: Are you insecure when writing about unsecure technology?

At Prompt we spend a lot of our days writing about technology – big data, data warehousing, BI, CRM, BPM, ERP, API – you name it, we’re ITK. If it’s got an acronym, or a set of acronyms associated with it, then we’ve written opinion pieces, whitepapers, case studies and news releases about it.

One area that’s always hot – whether the underlying topic is mobile, cloud, BYOD, SQL injections, risk or compliance – is security. Which brings us to a very specific grammar question. Do you ever find yourself pausing and asking yourself, the people around, or the grammar gods: “Is it unsecure or insecure?”

At first, this appears a very easy question. ‘Unsecure’ can surely be eliminated – after all the word doesn’t appear in either Merriam-Webster or the Oxford English Dictionary. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a great deal in the constantly changing world of tech speak. In the technology sector, words and phrases are coined and adopted at the drop of a Zune –  just consider the use of the words ‘virtualized’, ‘de-duplication’ or ‘phablets’.  At Prompt we have to stay current with the market and all of its constantly ‘evolving’ terms and phrases (but we don’t have to like ‘em).

The problem with this example is that while insecure can be used in both US and UK English to mean something that is not adequately protected – for example an ‘insecure investment’ – it is more typically used to describe a lack of emotional confidence or certainty. Yes, some dictionaries will go as far to state the example of ‘an insecure computer system’ and there’s a whole Wikipedia page on ‘Computer Insecurity’, while ‘Computer Unsecurity’ clearly does not earn a Wikipedia page at all. But for many of us ‘insecure’ just doesn’t sit very, um, securely in a sentence.

We can’t help think that an insecure computer system sounds a little self-conscious about the size of its processors, or needs a reassuring reboot up the backend. So where to go?

Well, we like to use either of the phrases ‘non-secure’ or ‘unsecured’. Both pass dictionary scrutiny, and each can be used quite literally to mean ‘not made secure’, which we think is a good fit for a computer system that hasn’t been protected with security measures.

Unless you are an absolute stickler for academic grammar (and if you are then tech buzzwords are going to destroy your finely balanced sensibilities in about a picosecond anyway), then you could arguably use any of the terms mentioned in this post to get your point across. The most important thing then, as is generally the case with most copywriting best practices, is that you are consistent. So pick a term, add it to your company style-guide, share it with your team, marketing contacts and agency – and then be secure in your decision.

Follow Hazel on Twitter at @HazelButters

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