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This might sound a bit silly, but I'm writing a program, and I'm looking for a way to name a variable which contains the entity that triggered a certain process.

I googled around a bit, and there are relatively few references to "triggerer", eg.:

Popular dictionaries I found contain no mention of this, nor anything reasonable in their respective pages for the word "trigger":

Is this an actual word? Or is there a better word? Alternatives I thought of or found were "activator", "starter", "causer" - but these sound kind if silly/not fitting.

EDIT: As some have pointed out, it might be helpful to clarify 2 things:

  • In the title, I'm referring to a person, but in the body of the question, I'm referring to an entity. I apologize for the confusion, but it stems from the fact that the entity currently represents a person (always), but this might not be the case in the future. Between writing the title and writing the body of the question, I made the generalization in my mind without realizing it.
  • In my specific case, it's desirable to distinguish the thing activating the trigger from the trigger itself, so just calling the "triggerer" a trigger is not appropriate.
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    In "normal" contexts, native speakers simply conflate the "equipment" with the user [of the equipment]. So The rabble-rouser was the trigger for violent protests. Parliamentary whips are named after the [metaphorical] disciplinary aid they use to control votes,influential people are called "big guns", etc. You might need different identifiers in a coding context, but the (theoretically "valid") word triggerer would rarely if ever be useful in a natural language context. – FumbleFingers Feb 3 at 12:50
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    I’m voting to close this question because it's only meaningful in the context of programming variable / function names, not the use of natural language. – FumbleFingers Feb 3 at 12:51
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    In event-driven programming, the originator of an event is usually called the source. – Canadian Yankee Feb 3 at 13:55
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    @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica The answer to the question does not make the question off-topic. We're trying to create a reference, not a text book. All information is useful to one degree or another. Knowing a word is archaic or otherwise "not useful" in a modern natural language context is still a useful thing to know, even if the word itself isn't useful. – ColleenV Feb 3 at 14:13
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    In the context of programming, an "agent" is often what causes a trigger – personjerry Feb 3 at 22:12

11 Answers 11

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"Triggerer" has been a word for the past 60 years or so, according to Google nGrams. To my native English speaking ear, it sounds like a perfectly natural construction, but slightly awkward-- it's a word I could see myself actually using in an appropriate conversation, but despite the construction being natural, the double "-er" ending would feel strange on my tongue and I wouldn't like it. (I wouldn't like it, but I'd still use it and understand it perfectly well)

That said, it is definitely a word. In the context of computer programming, it is also likely to be the best possible word-- if you have a programming concept called a "trigger" with a defined technical meaning, then something that activates the "trigger" must be the "triggerer".

On the other hand, in prose or other non-programing contexts, I might want to avoid the double "-er" ending just for the sake of elegance. I wouldn't have to avoid it, but I might try anyway. Your suggestion of "activator" would be a fine choice in many situations.

But for programming, you can stick with "triggerer" for maximum clarity.

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    In programming, I would almost always use source. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Feb 4 at 3:56
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    Also in programming, you shouldn't really use a single work like source or trigger - it should be combined with the target - i.e. EventSource or TaskTrigger. In this case I think TaskTrigger is fine (i.e. if the trigger is a clock event). – David Waterworth Feb 4 at 4:48
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    "To my native English speaking ear" - that sounds silly and is unnecessary. – AIQ Feb 4 at 6:03
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    My native English ear and my software engineer ear tell me that "triggerer" would be an acceptable, clear and unambiguous name in a computer program. We programmers have to put up with much worse than that. – RedSonja Feb 4 at 6:59
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    @AIQ Not really silly, and definitely not unnecessary. Someone who has spoken a language for their entire life is generally going to have a much more intuitive grasp of the phonetic and orthographic rules of the language than an L2 speaker or someone who is just learning, so clearly specifying that you have that background lends weight to the answer (especially on a forum for L2 learners). – Austin Hemmelgarn Feb 4 at 12:40
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Trigger

As others have pointed out, a trigger is something that triggers an action. You do not need an extra "-er". It sounds stupid (IMHO)

Note: The title and question are inconsistent. In the title you want us to name the person who triggers an event. In the case of a program, this would be the "User". In the body of the question, you want us to name an entity. This would be the "trigger".


trigger (verb) 1a: to release or activate by means of a trigger
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trigger

trigger (noun)
...
: something that causes something else to happen
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trigger

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    Well we don't call the person pulling the trigger a trigger though. We call the trigger that triggers the gun a trigger. I think the OP is asking for one step removed from the trigger. – ColleenV Feb 3 at 14:36
  • There is a certain confusion in the question. In the title, the OP asks for "a person" (I would call them the "user") but in the main body of the question, they talk about an "entity". I was considering the entity rather than the human. – chasly - supports Monica Feb 3 at 14:39
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    Yes, but I think the entity's relationship to the trigger is "the thing that caused the trigger to activate which caused something else to happen" not the trigger itself. I think there is a desire to distinguish the entity that activated the trigger from the trigger itself. – ColleenV Feb 3 at 14:50
  • @ColleenV - But having one trigger that does nothing but activate another trigger seems pointless. – chasly - supports Monica Feb 3 at 15:20
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    @roman - the child in Colleen's comment, is the instigator of the event. I can turn that into an answer if you wish. dictionary.com/browse/instigator – chasly - supports Monica Feb 3 at 15:45
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The question is whether you're talking about literal triggers (i.e. the lever on a gun or gun-shaped tool) or figurative ones. I'll skip you some time on the longer figurative answer and address software development specifically.


Literal triggers

People who pull the triggers of guns are known as a shooter:

Shooter
a person who uses a gun on a particular occasion
"The accused White House shooter was arrested on Wednesday by Pennsylvania state troopers."

When we're talking about gun-shaped items that are not actual firearms, you describe either the person or the action they're performing just as they are contextually known, e.g.

  • The carpenter nailed the plank to the floor (using a nail gun)
  • The set builder glued the leaves to the tree (using a hot glue gun)
  • The baker frosted the cake (using a decoration gun)

There is no uniform way to say "they physically operated the trigger on this device that has a trigger", and there's usually no need for such a generic term anyway, given the wide range of contexts in which a physical trigger could be used.


Software development

For software development specifically, "triggerer" is a really bad name, because it is as vague as can be. Software is a massive sequence of tiny events, and each event is the trigger for the next event. You could literally call anything a "triggerer" (or whatever word you'd use).

Classes should be named after their purpose. If the only way to describe their purpose is to say "this class triggers the next thing", in software development terms that's the same as saying "this class doesn't do nothing".

If you consider that this new entity does not invariably set this chain of events into motion (e.g. it's based on a conditional), then you shouldn't name it for its trigger-like (or trigger-wielding-like) nature.

This is too vague to give you a specific answer to. Maybe it's a web controller. Maybe it's a hosted service. Maybe it's a validation rule. Name it after what it is.
But in all cases, you're going to have to focus on a more meaningful role description other than "it doesn't do nothing".


Figurative triggers

This is one of those principles that is encapsulated by an old joke.

Lady: I do say, this train ride has been nothing but bumpy and horrible.
Conductor: It's always bumpier in the last carriage, ma'am.
Lady: Well they should remove the last carriage then!

The joke works because "the last carriage" is a shifting goal post. Even if you remove it, the carriage that used to be second to last has now become the last carriage. Sorry for ruining the joke by explaining it, but there is a purpose to me doing so.

The label of "trigger" is a similarly shifting goalpost. When you understand that B was the trigger for A, and C was the trigger for B, then C becomes "the trigger". In fact, when we label something to be "the trigger", we essentially say that this is the highest level on which the sequence of events (leading to A) is guaranteed.

It's like digging a hole. You can choose how deep you dig the hole, but you are free to stop at any time and say "this is the bottom of the hole", no matter how deep you dug. If you start digging again, and dig deeper, you can then again say that "this is the bottom of the hole". There is no concept of a "bottom of the bottom".

Similarly, you say "this is the trigger" when you stop looking for a further causal chain. If you look deeper down the causal chain, then the label of "trigger" shifts with it.

Let's use an example. Note that I'm listing events in reverse order. The effect is listed before the cause, and its cause, and...

Simple explanation of how guns work:

  1. A bullet shoots out of a gun
  2. A gunman pulled the little lever on the bottom of their gun while it was loaded

This is why we call that little lever the "trigger", because it is the thing that sets in motion the chain of events that will fire a bullet from this gun. I could've been much more detailed about this chain of events:

  1. A bullet shoots out of a gun
  2. The gunpowder in the round explodes and creates a pushing force on the bullet
  3. The cocked hammer strikes the back of the round
  4. A gunman pulls the little lever on the bottom of their gun while it was loaded

I could've been even more detailed about the physics and chemistry of it all, but what I really want to point out that we don't call it the trigger because it directly precedes its effect, but because it initiates the effect. Pulling the trigger is what starts the entire sequence of events.

The takeaway here is that whatever is at the bottom of the list is "the trigger", if you consider each cause and effect to be inevitable consequences of one another.
Otherwise, the "trigger" is event lowest on the list that is continuously connected to the final effect using nothing but (reasonably) inevitable steps.

We can also look at more concrete examples:

  1. Archduke Ferdinand is shot dead
  2. Gavrilo Princip pulled the trigger of his gun while aiming it at the Archduke.

So there you have it. That literal gun trigger is the trigger for Archduke Ferdinand's death.

But we're in history class, and we're talking about World War I. What the teacher is trying to get across is that there's more to this chain:

  1. World War I starts
  2. Archduke Ferdinand dies
  3. Archduke Ferdinand is shot
  4. Gavrilo Princip pulled the trigger of his gun while aiming it at the Archduke.

That specific trigger on that specific gun, on that specific day, was the trigger for World War I.

But when we're discussing such things, we're generally not interested in the workings of a gun, but rather the decision made by the shooter themselves.

  1. World War I starts
  2. Archduke Ferdinand dies
  3. Archduke Ferdinand is shot
  4. Gavrilo Princip intended to kill Archduke Ferdinand to damage the Austro-Hungarian empire

So since this is history class, we're interested in the people, and therefore Gavrilo Princip was the trigger for World War I. How he killed the Archduke is pretty much irrelevant, so the literal trigger is not really being discussed as an essential part in that chain of events. He could've used a knife and it would've still sparked WWI.

But if we're in psychology or social studies, we may focus on another aspect:

  1. World War I starts
  2. Archduke Ferdinand dies
  3. Archduke Ferdinand is shot
  4. Gavrilo Princip intended to kill Archduke Ferdinand to damage the Austro-Hungarian empire
  5. The Austro-Hungarian royal house (which Ferdinand was part of) had historically abused its Bosnian population (which Gavrilo was part of).

Therefore, a social studies expert who is discussing the psychology against seeking retribution against your abuser might argue that it was systemic ethnic disenfranchisement by the royal house against Bosnians that was the inevitable trigger for retaliation against the royal house by the Bosnians, which in turn inevitably started WWI.

Just for completeness' sake, not every cause is considered a trigger:

  1. World War I starts
  2. Archduke Ferdinand dies
  3. Archduke Ferdinand is shot
  4. Gavrilo Princip intended to kill Archduke Ferdinand to damage the Austro-Hungarian empire
  5. The Austro-Hungarian royal house (which Ferdinand was part of) had historically abused its Bosnian population (which Gavrilo was part of).
  6. Marija and Petar Princip had a second child.

Even though that second child turns out to be Gavrilo, no one is claiming that Marija and Petar set about an inevitable chain of events that caused WWI.

Well, if you did argue that point, then you would call event 6 "the trigger". But if you aren't arguing that point, but are focusing on social dynamics, then you'd still only call event 5 "the trigger".

To summarize

In every single list I made above (except the last one, for reasons explained there), you would be correct in stating that the last entry on that list was "the" trigger that cause the first event on that list.

Context matters. What you call "the trigger" is based on what you consider to be the start of a chain of events.

Which finally brings me round to your actual question:

it's desirable to distinguish the thing activating the trigger from the trigger itself

You are essentially digging a level deeper, and therefore what you're trying to refer to as the "triggerer" is in fact the (goalpost-shifted) new trigger.

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    I disagree that in natural language the typical person would say “Princip was the trigger for WWI.” Princip’s actions were the trigger, not Princip. Arguing that the Big Bang caused WWI because if nothing existed there would be no war is an entertaining thought exercise, but doesn’t reflect how people use language to communicate meaning and I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to folks learning English. – ColleenV Feb 4 at 12:20
  • @ColleenV: If pollen can trigger an allergic reaction, then Princip can trigger World War 1. That seems grammatically equivalent to me. However, I do agree that the passive tense implies that the object did not take the action itself. "Princip triggered World War 1" is IMHO correct, but I'd agree that most people wouldn't phrase it as "Princip was the trigger" as the passive tone implies he wasn't the one taking the action. – Flater Feb 4 at 12:31
  • But you don't say that the primordial soup, which gave rise to plants, some of which produce pollen, triggers allergic reactions. It's silly to imply that when the question at hand is "Is triggerer a real word, and if not is there a different word that means what I'm trying to say?" This line of argument is unproductive for the scope of ELL. Don't get me wrong, it's fun to debate it, but it's not on-topic here and it's not answering the question. – ColleenV Feb 4 at 13:29
  • @ColleenV: This was specifically addressed in the answer. "Even though that second child turns out to be Gavrilo, no one is claiming that Marija and Petar set about an inevitable chain of events that caused WWI." A trigger is defined as the cause that inevitably causes an effect (within reasonable expectations, i.e. a gun's trigger is a trigger and it doesn't account for gun jams or lack of ammo). This delves into determinism and is indeed off-topic, but the fact remains that the figurative "trigger" is subjective and depends on what you consider strong causality. – Flater Feb 4 at 15:50
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    +1 for There is no concept of a "bottom of the bottom". "I see where you are going, sir. But there's no use. It's turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down." – geneSummons Feb 4 at 23:08
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As the word feels awkward (as many people have already pointed out) I would suggest a synonym: instead of the process being triggered by a triggerer, it should be initiated by an initiator or requested by a requestor.

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I don't see anything wrong with triggerer. The suffix -er is a highly productive suffix in Modern English and can be appended to an enormous number of verbs (and nouns/adjectives particularly when they denote a status, occupation or origin) of all etymological sources. -er is mainly a noun agent suffix, immediately attachable to any kind of verb base, though the -ate ending is usually suffixed with -or, thus instigator with -or.

And as @mdewey pointed out in the comments, it can also be appended to words that already end in er (e.g. conquerer, murderer, triggerer, plasterer etc).

Just because triggerer is not present in popular dictionaries, doesn't mean it's not an acceptable word.

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    And we can even add it to words which already end in -er like plasterer = the worker who applies plaster. – mdewey Feb 3 at 15:53
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In a programming sense, if I was working on this I would name this field, TriggeredBy.

I don't feel this should be a full answer, yet I don't have the rep to comment.

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    I think this is a perfectly valid answer in this context. That's exactly what I would call such a variable in this context. – Llama Feb 5 at 2:02
  • The question was not “what should I name this variable” (that would be off-topic on ELL). The question was whether triggerer is a real word, and what other real word might replace it if it’s not. – ColleenV Feb 5 at 11:59
  • @ColleenV True, but "triggered by" would be a perfectly valid way to describe an event caused by someone or something in English. – Llama Feb 6 at 5:55
  • @John Yes, and there is another answer that covers that. This doesn’t answer the language question at all. – ColleenV Feb 6 at 11:51
  • @ColleenV That's why I added that I thought it should be a comment. The question is on the ELL Stack, however at its heart it's a variable naming issue. – James.Oliver Mar 26 at 0:37
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Two answers for you:

If you want an -er/-or word, I'd use initiator

The initiator of a plan or process is the person who was responsible for thinking of it or starting it.

-- Collins

That wouldn't seem out of place to me as a variable/property/field name saying who/what initiated (started) something.

Adding "by" to the past tense

In programming we often use the suffix "by" to indicate who/what did something, so you could use "triggered by" (triggeredBy) or "started by" (startedBy) for your variable/property/field name.

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As mentioned in the comments:

In the context of programming, an "agent" is often what causes a trigger personjerry

I think "agent" is a good fit to refer to an entity that acts on something else in general, and it doesn't have the awkwardness of triggerer. It has several definitions which make it a good word to use in a number of contexts:

  • a person or thing that acts or has the power to act
  • a phenomenon, substance, or organism that exerts some force or effect a chemical agent
  • the means by which something occurs or is achieved; instrument: wind is an agent of plant pollination

In the context of the original question, we might say The agent with id 876 triggered the fail-safe mechanism.


One minor caveat: in programming, agent also serves duty in its other meaning, as "an entity that works on behalf of another" (e.g. the web user-agent you're likely using to access this answer). If the program in question is also using agent in that sense, you should probably avoid using this term for the triggering entity as well.

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Correct and quirky.

The essence of a trigger is that it is a one-shot event with consequences. In common speech we might say "Fred was the trigger for stuff." when the more pedantic way would be "something Fred did was the trigger...". Most people are cool with this. (Like the misuse of 'catalyst' in "Fred was the catalyst for..." We know what's meant and have more important things to worry about.)

So, pedantically, you can have triggerer (or triggerist) for a person who sparks the event. I wouldn't use either unless it refers to a sentient being. So in computer code you'll be helping everyone by using common terms such as event and initiator or source.

Feel free to hack the English language, you're not limited to words that appear in the dictionary. I don't think that triggeree makes sense in any context. That would be gobsmackering!

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  • While I think some of your writing might be a big difficult for a learner to understand, I'm giving you and up-vote for "a one-shot event with consequences". It may not capture everything there is to know about the meaning of "trigger", but I like it as a concise definition for this context. – ColleenV Feb 5 at 20:26
  • The reason for a relaxed and detailed response, @ColleenV, is that many learners have the impression that there are rules which lead to 'right' and 'wrong'. Books, teachers and courses tell you how it must be done if you want the pass mark. In general, I'd say that the people asking questions here are exploring the English language and as such deserve to be given rich answers. – Peter Fox Feb 6 at 14:57
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Triggerer is a dictionary word although I have never heard or seen it used. The synonym activator from https://www.classicthesaurus.com/triggerer would sound more usual and the alternative initiator seems more appropriate in a programming context.

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There are many words that could be meaningful and correct. Words ending in "er-er" are kinda horrible because they can be hard to read and are very hard to pronounce. Try saying "treasurer" five times fast.

A thing "triggering" something can be any of the following:

cause, instigator, initiator, actor, shooter, starter, opener, source, signal, controller, fount, originator, author, prompter, stimulator, precipitator, generator, effector, producer, stimulus, agency, maker, ...et cetera, et cetera.

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    "...can be hard to read and are very hard to pronounce. Try saying "treasurer" five times fast..."//////// I'm afraid that's utter hogwash. I said 'treasurer' more than ten times, it's not 'hard-to-pronounce' at all. . – Void Feb 3 at 19:58
  • Now try robbing a bank. – user8356 Feb 3 at 19:59
  • I also said .... the police caught him – Void Feb 3 at 20:00
  • @user8356 "treasurer" is no harder to pronounce than "et cetera" which you are happy to repeat. According to the Oxford dictionary the pronunciation of the last two syllables is identical. (But I suppose an ignoramus might pronounce it "et keteray" or something similar...) – alephzero Feb 3 at 20:11
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    @alephzero Unless your variety of English is rhotic, in which case treasurer is somewhat more difficult than et cetera. The pronunciation described in Oxford would most likely be non-rhotic (although I haven't checked). – Dawood ibn Kareem Feb 3 at 23:16

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