Despite being common, the phrase “right-click” is inaccurate. The phrase “right-click” is incorrect for anybody who configures a mouse for left-handed use, which usually includes swapping the button functions. I know — I have used a left-handed mouse for many years. The first thing I do with any computer I use regularly is configure the mouse for left-handed use. The phrase is always wrong for me and other “lefties.”

Consider people who do not have or cannot use their right hand. The phrase “right-click” is inappropriate.

The phrase is incorrect when people do not use the mouse to navigate about a computer desktop but use the keyboard. Often I use the keyboard to navigate pull-down menus and dialog boxes. Consider people with disabilities who do not use a mouse and use the Sticky Keys utility. The phrase “right-click” does not apply when people use the keyboard.

Somewhere along the way people got lazy and started using the presumptive and inaccurate phrase “right-click.” This is similar to the problem of using trademarks as expressions, such as Xerox(R) or Kleenex(R), rather than the technically correct words photocopy and tissue.

The phrases primary and secondary mouse button are more appropriate. The phrases are cumbersome but accurate. Another straightforward way to avoid misunderstanding is not to use the phrase “right-click” but to describe the process — such as open a popup context menu.

The same arguments apply to the phrase “click.” The word “click” describes a noise — not an action. A more appropriate word is “select” or “pick” but not “click.” This is similar to the problem of using a noun as a verb ("I've been tasked....”).

Technical writers are persnickety little souls, n'est pas?

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: Tech Writing

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