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I just had a discussion with a college who used the phrase

"No authority"

to inform a user (text display) that he is not authorized [to use the device] after holding a card in front of a device.

My guts tell me this is just wrong, but I wasn't able to point out why. I would have used "Not authorized" or "Unauthorized"?

He argued that "authority" means "Befugnis" in German, so "No authority" would just say "Keine Befugnis".

Whats the better or only option? Any other suggestions?

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  • In English, an authority is someone or something that can bestow or revoke authorization. It's not the authorization itself. So "No authority" would probably be taken as trying to say that the device can't verify with the authority for some reason (no Internet connection, etc.) or that it hasn't been setup to check with an authority yet. – LawrenceC Jan 19 at 21:59
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In this context, I would say the noun form of "authorized" would be "authorization," not "authority." In other words, "No authority" would be better expressed as "No authorization".

The words have multiple meanings, some of which overlap a bit. Generally speaking, though, "authority" means you have the power to do something, while "authorization" means you have permission to do something. One could argue that credentials grant you authorization, but not necessarily authority.

As someone else has already said, there is more than one way to convey this. Another you might consider is:

  • Insufficient Authorization
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    I'm not sure "insufficient" is a good choice. Generally you're either authorized or you're not. I think if I were designing the system, I'd just go with "Invalid credentials", which helps the user understand the impact of the problem (they are not allowed to log in right now) and what they can do about it (type the correct credentials, or set about obtaining some credentials that work). But +1 for the rest of your answer :) – Matt Nov 20 '13 at 16:08
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    @Matt - Fair enough, although I do think "insufficient authorization" is sometimes used in multilevel security systems. – J.R. Nov 20 '13 at 17:35
  • "...´authority´ means you have the power to do something, while ´authorization´ means you have permission to do something". That is a good argument to point out the difference. Thanks for your answer. – Rev Nov 21 '13 at 7:29
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Not authorized would be the idiomatic way of saying it. "No authority" kind of comes off as the person who scanned their card has no authority at all, when it should really be saying "you are not authorized to use this device." "No Authority" would probably be understood (it is just the same word with a different tense), but "Not Authorized" is what is expected by a native speaker.

My favorite would probably be "Not Authorized", but you could use any of these:

  • Access Denied
  • Invalid/Bad Credentials
  • Not Permitted
  • Unrecognized User
  • Invalid User

Sorry, I don't know German, so I cant come up with what would be the best translation for you.

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  • Thanks for your answer and the examples. Unfortunately I can't accept this as well, it seems as good as the other one. – Rev Nov 21 '13 at 7:30
  • @Rev1.0 Glad it could help. Just accept the one that helped you the most. Good luck! – Gray Nov 21 '13 at 18:42
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No authority - You do not have the right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. No authorisation - You do not have permission; you have not been subject to the action of authorising.

As nouns the difference between right and permission is that right is that which complies with justice, law or reason while permission is authorisation; consent (especially formal consent from someone in authority). — https://wikidiff.com/right/permission

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