Words fail me

“I really wish you’d stop using that word – I don’t think it means what you think it means.” (The Princess Bride – of course)

When my wife asked “are you a feminist,” I realized I don’t like words very much. To some people, “feminism” means women who dress like men, think pornography is destroying society and that all men are inherently evil. You know the type I’m talking about. To many others, including my wife, a “feminism” is “the radical notion that women are people”. I wish people stopped using the word “feminist”.

In an online debate, my brother called me a “utilitarist” (man, I can’t even spell the word). In his opinion, that is not a good thing to be – “utilitarianism” will “create a cold and heartless society”. I don’t know if I am a utilitarianist (or any kind of -ist), but I think a good society is one where people are happy and fullfilled – is that utility? A cold and heartless society is probably not a very successfull archievement from this point of view. I wish people stopped using the word “utilitarist” (if that is indeed how it is spelled).

Words, especially those naming complex ideas like “feminism”, “utilitarianism”, “software architecture”, “services,” “liberal”, “conservative”, “ethical”, “agile development” are short cuts. The ideas they try and describe are complex, and the words mean different things to different people. This means that it very easy (and fun) to fight over the issues, because you can just assume that you opponent means, for example “service oriented architecture means that local calls should be exchanged with web services”. This is a really stupid thing to think, so you can rightfully criticize him for the view when he says that “SOA is a good strategy for designing systems.”

And if you’re going to make up new words, at least use words that sensible people would be able to disagree with. Like “myopic software development” (if I may toot my own horn). More on this later.

I don’t like big words, though. It’s hard enough to reach agreement when I’m talking about the same thing as those I speak to. It’s damn near impossible when we talk about different things.

(PS: I apologize for the long quiet period. Exhausting month)

Copyright © 2006 Johannes Brodwall. All Rights Reserved.

About Johannes Brodwall

Johannes is Principal Software Engineer in SopraSteria. In his spare time he likes to coach teams and developers on better coding, collaboration, planning and product understanding.
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