Populate as a verb for "to fill in"

Subject: Populate as a verb for "to fill in"
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 13 Jan 1995 13:01:51 -0600

Ray writes:

The following sentence appears in a manual I'm rewriting:

"Some fields are empty and must be populated by you. Other fields already
are populated with a default setting that you can either leave alone or
change to another value."

Does the use of "populate" bother anyone? ...I've never come across it. Has
anyone else?

Tammy speculates in reply:

My Merriam Webster defines populate as "to have place in: inhabit."
Technically, I guess it's correct. However, sounds to me like someone got
carried away with the thesaurus and the term ended up "populating" in all
the wrong places.

Tammy's thesaurus theory, while interesting, is wrong. Among certified
data nerds such as myself, "populate" is the preferred way to say "put data
in a data structure." Conotatively, the term is usually used to describe
wholesale movement of large amounts of data, as in "We populated the
Product Information Database with data drawn from the Research Information
System, the Customer Information System, and the Production Information
System." Some people resist the word "fill" because is sounds static, and
databases (usually) have no fixed limits and can grow, shrink and change
over time.

So, if the audience is people who routinely work with rows and columns and
primary keys and SQL and such, I would stick with "populate" to show that
I understood the correct technical terminology. If the audience is people
who are normally shielded from all the details by icons and entry boxes and
such, I would probably say "fill" or "type." I'd avoid "enter" unless I
really wanted the user to press the <ENTER> or <RETURN> key at the end of
the process. Many long-service data entry folk had the distinction
between "enter" and "type" drummed into them for years, and old habits
die hard.


Doug "Praise not the day until evening has
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com come; a woman until she is burnt; a
a sword until it has been tried; a
maiden until she is married; ice
until it has been crossed; beer until
it has been drunk."

--Viking Proverb

The preceding opinions and positions are mine alone, and are only
coincidentally related to those of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.

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