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This is a really basic question. Consider a statement:

A painted line is increased by length $x$

Can $x$ be a negative number just by the wording of the question? What would be a better way of rephrasing the question, to make it clear that $x$ can be negative?

(The reason I'm asking is that I'm programming and a method name needs to indicate that the parameter can be negative or positive, in order to decrease or increase a size)

Basically I'm looking for a generic term for decrease and increase.

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Can't you just say "x may be negative" in a comment? – Qiaochu Yuan Feb 4 '11 at 21:12
I have but it would be better for it to be part of the method name, which is currently increaseLengthBy: – Jonathan. Feb 4 '11 at 21:18
@Jonathan: Well, if want to allow x to be either positive or negative (or 0), why not say "The length of a painted line changes by x"? Then the method could be changeLengthBy. The generic term is "change". – Arturo Magidin Feb 4 '11 at 21:37
Or, "adjusted" so that the method could be adjustLenthBy. One of the guidelines in Microsoft's opus Code Complete is to use strong verbs in function names. Actually I like the use of negative arguments with increaseLengthBy. I should think it would make perfect sense to any mathematician who programs. – hardmath Feb 5 '11 at 2:58
@hardmath, could you put that as an answer? – Jonathan. Feb 9 '11 at 18:43
up vote 2 down vote accepted

As a "neutral" verb regarding increase or decrease, I propose "adjust" so that the method would be adjustLengthBy. This is concise but conforms to the MS Code Complete dictum to use strong verbs in function names.

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I'd say that "A painted line is changed by length $x$." The use of 'increased' implies the change is positive and it sends a confusing mixed message.

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