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I've been spell-checking a company's course catalogue for business online courses and one of its sections is titled "generic courses", the courses in this section are ones that are relevant for all employees regardless of their specific job roles. I initially thought that "generic" wouldn't be the right word here but then I did some googling and came across the website of the University of Oregon, which also lists "generic courses".

I still feel insecure about using the word "generic" in regard to courses. Generic = something that has no unique features. Wouldn't any course that has a specific topic have unique features? In which cases would you call a course "generic" and what word would you choose to describe courses that contain useful information for all employees as opposed to specialized knowledge that's relevant only for people in specific fields?

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  • You might call them "basic", "foundation", or "introductory" but that implies they're easy or for beginners. You might call them "common" but that might employ everybody has to do them. Maybe they think something like "general" isn't exciting enough, and "universal" is too exciting. There are lots of other words in a thesaurus, but if you have a catalog or offer courses you have a fairly wide freedom as to how you group them.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 5, 2023 at 9:14
  • Characteristic of or relating to a class or group of things; not specific. (Oxford Languages). Sounds OK for 'relevant to all employees'. Dec 5, 2023 at 9:16
  • If you look at the titles of generic courses at the University of Oregon, you get things like "403 – Thesis" or "404 -- Internship", which are such non-specific titles (even if the course itself is different for each student) that you start to understand why they were labelled that way.
    – Henry
    Dec 5, 2023 at 9:48
  • What about "generalist" courses?
    – ralph.m
    Dec 5, 2023 at 10:30
  • "generic" seems like the right word -- it's for courses that aren't specific to a particular job or field. You could also say "general purpose".
    – Barmar
    Dec 5, 2023 at 18:39

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"Generic = something that has no unique features": You've hit upon one usage, but there are others. Merriam-Webster gives:

having no particularly distinctive quality or application:
generic restaurants

This would be a bit of a negative reflection, not unlike "basic." But it also gives:

relating to or characteristic of a whole group or class : GENERAL
"Romantic comedy" is the generic term for such films.

This isn't quite the same usage as you encountered, but it shows we can get away without negative connotation.

But that isn't to say it couldn't be improved. In my mind, the "general" that MW just suggested is a better fit. Unless "generic" has become an entrenched and specialized usage among registrars?

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  • OED apparently lists 10 senses for the adjective. I'm assuming that 'suitable for all and sundry' is one of them. Dec 6, 2023 at 16:22

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