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I'm working a document, which is supposed to be a formal specification for software requirements, which seems to use word "disconfirm" to mean cancelling already given confirmation.

For example, there is a description of an activity which starts, and user needs to confirm the desire to start of the activity by pressing the confirm button. This is followed by text saying that the user shall not be able to disconfirm activity, where the meaning is, that once the confirm button is pressed, there is no going back. The activity starts and cannot be aborted.

My initial understanding of the word disconfirm was that it means to confirm in a negative sense, that is to say, that a the truth value of a statement is confirmed to be false. From what I managed to see, online dictionaries seem to agree with that idea, but it could also be, that I'm focused on seeing results which I'd like to see.

In the end, the document is supposed to be quickly, easily and unambiguously understood by speakers of American dialects of English, which leads me to the question from title: Is disconfirm commonly understood to mean cancelling of an already given confirmation in American English?

  • It is unambiguous and will probably be understood quickly, but you may want to consider 'cancel', just on the basis of how uncommon 'disconfirm' is. See Google Ngram for statistics. – Wehage Jun 17 at 8:48
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1. Do not use Disconfirm

Disconfirm:

[Merriam-Webster]
: to deny or refute the validity of

Up until reading this question, I didn't even know that disconfirm was a word, and I have a fairly large vocabulary. It's simply not something I've ever encountered or used before.

The word used far more often, as mentioned in the definition, is deny.

Google Ngram Viewer indicates that disconfirm is almost nonexistent in print, refute is comparatively uncommon, and deny is quite common:

disconfirm versus deny versus refute

So purely on the basis of wanting a word that is "quickly, easily and unambiguously understood," I suggest not using disconfirm.


In particular, in the same sense as disconfirm, deny is the common counterpoint to confirm:

"I can neither confirm nor deny that."

However, while it makes sense to click on a Confirm button, it makes no sense (with respect to the context in the question) to click on a Deny button—and much less sense to click on a Refute or a Disconfirm button.


2. Confirm pairs with Reject at the time of a decision

The most likely button label to pair with Confirm is Reject:

[Merriam-Webster]
1 a : to refuse to accept, consider, submit to, take for some purpose, or use
      // rejected the suggestion
      // reject a manuscript

Although, in point of fact, Confirm itself might not be the best word.

Depending on the context of when these buttons appear, a more ideal pairing might be Accept and Reject

If there is only a single button (Confirm), then there is no reason to consider its opposite.


3. The warning itself should just use cancelled, aborted, or stopped.

Once the process has started, you would not then mention rejecting it after the fact. That would be strange. Instead, you would use one of the words already used in the question itself—or a third one:

  • Once the Confirm button is pressed, the activity cannot be cancelled.
  • Once the Confirm button is pressed, the activity cannot be aborted.
  • Once the Confirm button is pressed, the activity is started and it cannot be stopped.

Note the pairing of started and stopped in the final version, which makes stopped the most natural choice.

In the first two versions, where started is not used, either of the other words is possible.


Turning to Google Ngram Viewer again, however, I compared it cannot be (cancelled / aborted / stopped). It showed that stopped is far more common than the other two:

it cannot be cancelled / aborted / stopped


In conclusion, if you want to use the most common and understandable phrasing, make the warning message the following:

  • Once the Confirm button is pressed, the activity is started it cannot be stopped.
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From an English language point of view, "disconfirm" does not mean to cancel a previously given confirmation - it means to disprove something previously held to be true. In a real-life setting, if someone "confirmed" their attendance at an event, the subsequent reversal of that decision would simply be a "cancellation".

I did find this reference to the word "unconfirm", but I'm not sure of its reliability. Dictionaries only contain the word "unconfirmed", which means that something has never been confirmed. I have never heard the process of reversing a confirmation called "unconfirm".

However, you appear to be searching for a word to use as jargon in the setting of a computer program, and many words are used in such a context in a way contrary to their meaning. For example, in the ITIL IT service management model, marking an issue as fixed is known as "resolving" it, and the process of reversing such a decision is "unresolving". Now, the word "unresolved" in English does not mean a reversal of a resolution - again, it means that something has never been resolved. Still, this is understood as jargon within the industry.

You might want to enquire if there is already some accepted terminology for this within other software or IT processes. If not, then really you could make a decision, as in my "unresolved" example above, to create your own jargon for the process. You could use "disconfirm", or "unconfirm", or any other name for your process. My personal preference would be for you simply to use the correct word "cancel confirmation". If you want a shorter name for the process and must use one word, "unconfirm" is more consistent with other IT terminology as mentioned.

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It means to deny or refute the validity of something, so, in response to your question, it does not necessary cancel a point of view; it merely suggests that it is not correct. I've never seen this construction in general use (maybe I should get out more) but all the instances I can find on the web are set in quotations or italics, suggesting it has yet to be fully embraced by standard English.

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