1. The noun has a number of technical meanings in mathematics and information technology, and has acquired general meanings that caused Fowler (1926) to categorize it as a popularized technicality. As a noun, it is often used somewhat pretentiously in meanings for which other words would serve as well: (1) role, duty, or responsibility

• (This function is now discharged by departmental select committees —H. Calvert, 1985)

(2) use or purpose

• (Identify the main functions of a hedge before deciding its composition —Gardeners' World, 1991)

(3) action, activity, or performance

• (He was embarrassed about the nature of his illness and reluctant to discuss his bowel function with anyone —J. Merchant et al., 1989)

(4) capacity, facility, or operation (especially with a preceding word:

• How will the trade and investment function be carried out with such a reduction in resources —Times, 2005)

or (5) party or gathering

• (It was not the kind of function to which Nat was accustomed to go, but his father's employer…pressed a ticket on him —Frederic Raphael, 1960).

2. As a verb, function often substitutes unnecessarily for more workaday words such as act, operate, think, or work:

• Excessive heat may make us feel ‘stupid’ —and unable to function mentally —U. Markham, 1991

• Workers had to leave offices, while restaurants and bars were unable to function —many being forced to turn away customers from their half-eaten meals —Express, 2007.

The phrase to be a function of is a direct borrowing from mathematics, and usually means little more than to be caused by:

• This suggests that, in part, the housewife's dissatisfaction with her work is a function of downward social mobility —A. Oakley, 1990.

3. There is a place for function as a formal and technical word, but in general use the alternatives suggested above are usually worth considering.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Function — Func tion, n. [L. functio, fr. fungi to perform, execute, akin to Skr. bhuj to enjoy, have the use of: cf. F. fonction. Cf. {Defunct}.] 1. The act of executing or performing any duty, office, or calling; performance. In the function of his public …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • function — n 1 Function, office, duty, province are comparable when they mean the act, acts, activities, or operations expected of a person or thing by virtue of his or its nature, structure, status, or position. Function is the most comprehensive of these… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • function — [fuŋk′shən] n. [OFr < L functio < pp. of fungi, to perform < IE base * bheug , to enjoy > Sans bhuṅktē, (he) enjoys] 1. the normal or characteristic action of anything; esp., any of the natural, specialized actions of a system, organ …   English World dictionary

  • Function — may refer to:* Function (biology), explaining why a feature survived selection * Function (mathematics), an abstract entity that associates an input to a corresponding output according to some rule * Function (engineering), related to the… …   Wikipedia

  • function — I noun appropriate activity, assignment, business, chore, design, duty, employment, exploitation, mission, munus, occupation, office, officium, performance, purpose, pursuit, responsibility, role, task, usage, use, utility, work associated… …   Law dictionary

  • Functĭon — (v. lat. Functio), 1) Verrichtung; Amtsverrichtung; daher Functioniren, ein Amt verrichten; 2) nach Kant die Einheit der Handlung, verschiedene Vorstellungen unter eine gemeinschaftliche zu ordnen; 3) die naturgemäße Thätigkeit eines Organs; 4)… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • function — [n1] capacity, job action, activity, affair, behavior, business, charge, concern, duty, employment, exercise, faculty, goal, mark, mission, object, objective, occupation, office, operation, part, post, power, province, purpose, raison d’être*,… …   New thesaurus

  • function — ► NOUN 1) an activity that is natural to or the purpose of a person or thing. 2) a large or formal social event or ceremony. 3) a computer operation corresponding to a single instruction from the user. 4) Mathematics a relation or expression… …   English terms dictionary

  • Function — Func tion (f[u^][ng]k sh[u^]n), Functionate Func tion*ate, v. i. To execute or perform a function; to transact one s regular or appointed business. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • function — function, functionalism Although the use of the concepts of function and functionalism is usually associated with the work of Talcott Parsons in modern sociology, there is a long tradition of functional explanation in studying societies, and a… …   Dictionary of sociology

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