Thursday, November 20, 2008

More words that make me yearn for the days of grunts and hand gestures

Here are a few more words and expressions that seem to actually impair communication, presented as a follow-up to "Verbing weirds language."

  • Use of "2.0" outside the concept of version control

    The worst offender here is the ghastly phrase "Web 2.0". My understanding is that the phrase is used to broadly describe web sites and web applications based on user-generated content. However, this does not represent a version change. It's not a major upgrade in the sense of version control. It may be an important change in the way people interact with each other via electronic media, but the analogy to a software or hardware upgrade falls apart. I challenge the world's linguists, programmers, and technology writers to come up with a better description - and don't you dare call it a "paradigm shift."

    In 2004, a Holland, Michigan couple gained press for naming their son with the suffix "2.0" instead of "Junior" or "II". It may be cute now, but imagine the beatings this poor kid will get in high school. Also, I question whether anything that regularly craps its pants can be considered a major upgrade.

  • It's really aggravating when the word "technology" is used strictly to mean "electronics" or "computing". "Technology," from the Greek techne, "art" or "skill," is any invented device or system that does something. I won't even limit the definition by saying "does something useful." If I use a rock as a pounding device, that's a technology. If I build a device that transmutes goat urine into gasoline, that's also a technology (pat yourself on the back if you caught the Blues Brothers reference). Clean drinking water is a technology; so are sanitary sewers. I don't think it's much better to use "high-tech" to refer to computers and electronic devices, either. Herein lies another challenge for wordsmiths.

  • "Blogosphere." This word should be used only to refer to the personal space bubble around the governor of Illinois; furthermore, that should be spelled "Blagosphere." See below:

  • Excessive/inappropriate use of the word "hack."

    I just saw an article suggesting that a new first-person video game "is the first game to hack your proprioception." Proprioception is, loosely speaking, the sense of the position of your body in space. The writer was presumably trying to convey that the gameplay was so realistic that it made him feel as though his body was moving. That is indeed remarkable. But how is it a hack? It's not a modification beyond an intended design, nor is it an ungraceful solution to a problem, nor is it a clever prank, in the sense of the "MIT hacks." Surely the players' proprioception was not somehow "rewired" by playing the game. Although, if it were, maybe it would take the form of synesthesia - wouldn't it be neat if playing the game enabled one to suddenly taste or smell where one's hand was in space? Ok, maybe not.

    Incidentally, the same article confused "retch" (verb, to vomit) with "wretch" (noun, a miserable person). That makes me (a wretch) want to vomit (retch).

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