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"Doing this leads to confusing behavior — most likely a usage diagnostic of some sort from awk."

awk is a software. I can't understand "a usage diagnostic of some sort from awk", I think it should be "a diagnostic usage of some sort from awk", because diagnostic is an adjective.

Besides, what does "some sort from awk" mean? "some kind from awk"? But there is no kind or sort mentioned in the context.

Source: http://www.gnu.org/software/gawk/manual/gawk.pdf page 34

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  • Just a guess - but "sort" in this context may be some kind of program to sort values (i.e., something like a heap sort or Quicksort). – J.R. Aug 26 '14 at 10:09
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As you note, awk is software - more specifically, a program run from the command line. By convention, many command-line programs will print a detailed message to the console if they are unable to understand the arguments they were given. This message may include various information:

  • Expected arguments
  • Documentation
  • Which argument(s) were not understood
  • What went wrong in trying to process the arguments

In this sentence, the author refers to this message as a "usage diagnostic". In this context, "usage" further describes or clarifies "diagnostic" - the diagnostic corresponds to an error in how the program was used, not environmental factors or other problems.

"Diagnostic" can take either an adjective or noun form. In its noun form, as seen here, it identifies a "practice or technique of diagnosis."

Had the author included another noun here, such as "message", then "diagnostic" would have taken its adjective form because it was describing the message.

Flipping these, to "diagnostic usage", does not make sense - a "usage" is not something you would expect to receive from a program.

"Sort" means "kind" or "variety". To be honest, it really doesn't add anything useful to the sentence, other than to suggest that the message might vary based on the arguments you passed.

So this sentence could be rewritten for clarity as follows:

Doing this leads to confusing behavior -- most likely a diagnostic message from awk, including details of the failure or expected usage.

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  • Yes, except a diagnostic usage from [some source] isn't completely nonsensical. Lots of programs use language (as text, or increasingly, as audio) to convey information, so it's not unreasonable to refer to having encountered a "usage" from/by a program. – FumbleFingers Aug 26 '14 at 17:17
  • @FumbleFingers But even in your example of some kind of output - text or audio - it is a message, not a usage. It may describe the usage, but it is not itself a "usage". – GalacticCowboy Aug 26 '14 at 20:05
  • If that one doesn't do it for you, how about: Previous diagnostic schemas referred to these patients as "hysterical," a diagnostic usage that was not clearly defined and one that was potentially applicable to the DSM? Or the teacher may listen to oral work or give a diagnostic usage test, in the same result set. – FumbleFingers Aug 26 '14 at 23:36
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    ...I should also add that I personally don't think diagnostic in OP's case refers to a "practice or technique of diagnosis". I'll agree that's a feasible interpretation, but I simply read it as a diagnostic [message] - as in "Ignore that - it's just technical diagnostics". – FumbleFingers Aug 26 '14 at 23:42
  • @FumbleFingers Yeah, it works in that sentence, because the "usage" is the object. – GalacticCowboy Aug 27 '14 at 11:23

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