July 27, 2000
Marina Padakis wrote:
Mavens, please explain the distinction between disc and disk. At work we have been using disk for computer-related items, and disc for non-computer items. But then we get into trouble with "CD" vs. "CD-ROM" (i.e., compact disc vs. compact disk-read only memory). Laser disk or disc? Video disc or disk? Help!
Chaos is the rule when disk meets disc. Everyone has his or her own standard, and while some experts feel very strongly that they have the answer, there is no consensus. So, the good news is that it is very difficult to be entirely wrong.
Most general publications have adopted the standard that disk is correct in all circumstances, but allow that many people also use the variant disc. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Random House all adopt this stance.
The other major school of thought tends to be supported by technical writers and has been adopted as the style of Wired, Emedia, IEEE Computer Magazine, the Optical Video Disc Association, the DVD Video Group, and others. This orthographic standard makes the distinction between disks which are 'magnetic media' like floppy disks or hard disks, and discs which are 'optical media' (i.e. read with a laser) like audio compact discs or CD-Roms. Even the techno-geeks hit the wall of disagreement if you ask about magneto-optical disks/discs. No one has all of the answers.
Further confusion is introduced by the orthographic preference in British English for disc over disk as a general rule with the sole exception of floppies and hard disks which are written disk because of the influence of American English. Disk and disc both come to English from the French disque (spelled with a -que, no less!) so there is no etymological reason to prefer one or the other.
In my personal writing I fall in with the techno-spelling standard, though not because I understand the difference between magnetic and optical storage. For me the round objects like audio CDs and CD-Roms are discs and the rectangular things–or the ones that look rectangular from the outside–are disks.
My advice to you would be to write whichever comes naturally, but to try to stay consistent. If you can only do this by simplifying everything to disk then count yourself in good company and wave the Times at anyone who picks on you. If you are comfortable with the optical-magnetic distinction, then use it. The techies will applaud you.
WORDS@RANDOM | The Mavens' Word of the Day | Sensitive Language
How to Choose A Dictionary | Book Search
|Copyright © 1995-2008 Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.