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When talking about computing, are "not enabled" and "disabled" same?

I understand that the phrases "not enabled" and "disabled" are synonymous and can be used interchangeably in many contexts. However, are there any subtle differences, at least in the emphasis, in some contexts?

To me, it sounds like "disabled" has a negative connotation to it.

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  • 7
    The difference is 'not enabled' can equal "might not exist". 'disabled' equals exists, but turned off. My PC is not enabled with a holographic display. My PC has javascript popups disabled.
    – mcalex
    Jul 28 at 8:50
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    @mcalex I strongly disagree that 'not enabled' can equal "might not exist".
    – RonJohn
    Jul 28 at 14:07
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    @mcalex, "not equipped with"? None of the dictionaries I have access to seem to indicate that meaning for "enabled".
    – ilkkachu
    Jul 28 at 16:11
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    @RonJohn: It's an idiomatic use (some might say abuse) of the term, but "enabled" is often used in place of "capable". A HDR-enabled monitor, a Wifi-enabled robot vacuum, a Bluetooth-enabled power outlet Jul 28 at 16:29
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    Computers can't see Wi-Fi networks if they don't have Wi-Fi enabled. Some of those might have Wi-Fi disabled while others might lack Wi-Fi capability.
    – Nat
    Jul 29 at 4:16

11 Answers 11

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They are dependent on context – whether a feature or property is usually available. For example

The password protection has been disabled.

Administrator access has not been enabled.

So although they appear to be synonyms, there can be additional information implied by the writer, or inferred by the reader.

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    I'd say the key question then is what is that additional information - you are also just implying it :-) Jul 28 at 6:44
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    This arguably only applies when you use "has [not] been". I would say there isn't any difference between "is disabled" and "is not enabled" (except that in most cases "is disabled" is going to sound more natural).
    – NotThatGuy
    Jul 28 at 7:46
  • I thought the original question focused more the difference between the states of being enabled or disabled, rather than the action of enabling or disabling a feature.
    – chepner
    Jul 28 at 14:10
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    @chepner it's the same. "The administrator mode is not enabled." Jul 28 at 14:11
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    @ParibusCeteris it's in the first sentence: "whether a feature or property is usually available". I had thought to use the term 'default settings' in another answer, but somehow did not. That answer is basically the same as this one. Jul 29 at 6:50
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From a computing perspective, I would not perceive a negative connotation to the word “disabled”, as it is a very common term. Part of the negative connotation it has in referring to people is precisely because it is so commonly used in connection to inanimate objects.

However, there is a difference in subtext between “disabled” and “not enabled” and it depends on default state:

  • Something “disabled” is not available because the default settings have been changed to block it (default state is on)
  • Something “not enabled” is not available because the default settings have been left as they are and they block it (default state is off); in order to make it available, you would need to perform some action (enable the thing)

These are just nuances and people may not necessarily follow these definitions, but if I came across this wording in software documentation, this would be my interpretation.

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    I think it's rather common to list "default state: disabled" for some knob or feature, or to say that "this feature is disabled in the default configuration" or so. Sure, in that case "this feature has been disabled [by the user]" isn't true in that case, but even if it hasn't been actively disabled (action) in that particular installation, since it was off from the start, it's still disabled (state)...
    – ilkkachu
    Jul 28 at 16:16
  • This is a better answer than the accepted one, in my opinion!
    – Max Lennon
    Jul 30 at 19:19
7

Specifically in a computing context, they may differ in meaning depending on the normal default value. However, it's not guaranteed that these implications can be drawn.

"Disabled" might imply that the default is enabled, and an action has been taken by someone or something to disable it. Or it may be a simple statement of fact.

"Not enabled" is fairly likely to imply that the default state is "disabled", and somebody or something has to take an action to enable it. ("Not disabled" would carry the same implication, if the default state was "enabled").

(And in my opinion, anybody taking offence at the use of "disabled" to describe the state of a piece of computer software, or even hardware, needs to be packed off to see a psychiatrist as soon as possible! )

7

In some contexts "disabled" can also mean "not changeable" or "not available", especially when used with a passive voice ("this option has been disabled").

For example a checkbox can be turned on, turned off or be disabled.

Checkboxes in various states

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  • I can't say I agree. If the latter two are disabled, then the former two are necessarily enabled. Using enabled to describe checked state and disabled to describe changeable state is pointlessly confusing. The first two controls are enabled, and the latter two are disabled. The first and last are checked, and the middle two are unchecked.
    – Schism
    Jul 29 at 22:36
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    I think the difference here is not one between "disabled" and "not enabled", but rather the subject of what's enabled or disabled. The first 2 have the input enabled, but only the first and last have the option (i.e. whatever the input is referring to) enabled.
    – JoL
    Jul 30 at 0:26
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    I consider this answer to be entirely wrong. If clicking on something has an effect, it's enabled. If it's not enabled, then it's disabled. I am a programmer in an English speaking country, and this is how we use those words. Jul 30 at 4:56
  • In particular, the last option gives the clue: instead of saying "option enabled but disabled" said "option active but disabled", which suggests you are using "active" for the checked status, not "enabled". In contexts where "disabled" would mean "not changeable" we would rarely use the term "enabled" for the turned-on state, we would use "active", "checked", or something else to avoid the ambiguity.
    – Stobor
    Jul 30 at 8:15
  • This answer never claimed that it wasn't ambiguous, just that in some cases 'disabled' can have an extra meaning to some people that doesn't really apply to 'not enabled', adding to the subtle differences between the two terms. Aug 3 at 23:55
5

I think the negative connotation you perceive is related to speaking about people, which is actually the first meaning on this dictionary.

As far as definitions go, enabled and disabled are opposites (see 1c here versus 2 above).

As long as we make clear we are not talking about people there is no problem using the word disabled.

"Make sure the delete button is disabled" is much clearer to my eyes than "Make sure the delete button is not enabled"

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Depending on context, yes, disabled can have a negative connotation. In the past it has been used to refer to individuals whom have a physical or mental impairment, but the word has fallen out of favor. As far as computing contexts, disabled and not enabled mean the same thing.

Note: I'm aware that some people might want to dispute that, saying that not enabled means "not ever enabled" (as in a feature that is not implemented) OR "available, but never turned on once", while disabled means "the feature is present, just not switched on" OR "the feature is present and has been switched on before but is now off." I think when you get down to this level, you end up with a lot of unnecessary discussions, and the differences just aren't worth fighting over.

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    The OP is specifically asking about a computing context, where "disabled" is very commonly used. There is really very little overlap with the sense you mention, so I think a better answer would be "there is no negative connotation in the context of computing and when not referring to people perceived to have disabilities". Another very commonly used word is "invalid", which is even more dangerous to use if referring to people, but harmless (and pronounced differently) in other contexts.
    – fred2
    Jul 27 at 20:13
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In context, it might be possible for something to be neither enabled nor disabled. For example, it might be partly-enabled or left at the default setting. In other contexts, “not enabled” and “disabled” are indeed synonyms.

I can’t recall ever seeing a piece of technical writing where a reference to a disabled feature could be confused with the usage “disabled person,” but some people do object to the latter. So that’s another thing to keep in mind.

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To take a different tack…

I wouldn't consider them as having positive or negative connotations, but instead passive vs active.

Not enabled is passive. An unchanged state.
Disabled is active. Someone had to make that call.

This, of course, in computing, can be dependant on what the default state is, but unless you can quantify that, then I feel the connotation of each implies one was left alone, the other actively changed.

0

In computing specifically, disabled has no negative connotations. Instead, it just means a feature or option is turned off.

It is not necessarily the same as "Not Enabled", though in some cases it might be. Other answers reference the implied default values, which is a valid difference.

Another difference could be tri-states - for example, a certain option could be Enabled, Disabled, or Unmodified/Default. This could be used to compare user settings to a certain global default - if you have [option] Enabled, you get it, if you have it disabled, you don't, and if you haven't touched the option, it instead follows a global default, which may change with or without your knowledge and/or input.

In such a case, Disabled is the explicit instruction that you don't want [feature], while "not enabled" is ambiguous between "disabled" and "don't care/just do default".

I'm a software engineer. A while ago I build a system that can be Enabled, Disabled, and Enabled-Outside-Office-Hours (because of server load concerns).

Please use the word "Disabled" whenever the interface does as well, especially when contacting technical support. Precise language use in those cases will reduce the time they need to help you, and make it easier for them to understand your problem.

If you are instead designing an interface, look at comparable interfaces and use the same. In this case, the Principle of Least Astonishment should be your primary guide. (TL:DR; Do what surprises the fewest people. It's kind of off-topic for this side, but please google it if you're building any kind of interface and haven't already.)

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  • Hello, and welcome to the ELL. Your answer could be improved by adding references from reliable sources to back up the information you are giving. This might help.
    – fev
    Jul 30 at 9:59
0

If there are two states, enabled and disabled, then as adjectives, disabled and not-enabled clearly refer to the same state.

But used as verbs, to describe past events or actions, they are clearly not the same: "the option was disabled" does not mean the same as "the option was not enabled". The first implies that there was an active intervention to disable the option, the second implies that there was a failure to take action to enable it.

Typically a system with an option disabled has less functionality than when it is enabled, but I wouldn't call that a "negative connotation": the fact that the user is given a choice means that both choices are legitimate and justifiable under appropriate circumstances.

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Computing "Disabled". compared to "not enabled" : means that at one point the whatever-it-was was enabled. You can't disable something that was not enabled (strictly speaking). But trying to apply "negative connotation" is out of bounds -- it's almost anthropomorphic. You could say "The antivirus was disabled" - that might carry (almost) a negative connotation. But that's in the outer context...the word disabled (in IT terms) refers to state, not to intent.

"Enabled" usually means an option that was either previously disabled; an option that is (by default) enabled; and the implication (right or wrong) is that it could be disabled at some point.

In a human sense "disabled" is (in many societies) considered to reflect badly on the speaker. (That the synonyms or awkward neologisms are often blatantly condescending and therefore often offensive in themselves is frequently ignored.)

I'm not sure of the etymology but I suspect it has something to do with the phrase "able-bodied persons". You cerntainly don't refer to a person (when referring to their body) as "enabled".

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