Re: Re[2]: Killer Language

Subject: Re: Re[2]: Killer Language
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 1996 13:10:32 -0800

I asked, re "killer language":
> What
>made *you* (those of you who have considered purging "violent" terms
>from documentation) think of it?

>Enquiring minds wanna know!"

Martha Cosgriff answered:
> The terms in question (words such as "abort," "strike," "nuke," "kill" etc.)
> are terms well-established in the military, where macho language is a given,
> but why must these or similar terms be carried over into software and other
> technical areas?

Sorry, Martha. I don't see these terms as restricted to the military.
"abort" simply means to terminate before completion and has been part
of an MS-DOS error message since forever. "strike" has meant to draw
a line through a letter in the printing industry for forever. And
"kill" has been the UNIX term for terminating a process -- again, for
forever. Furthermore, I know of no one, male or female, who approaches
a microwave oven without thinking "nuke lunch".

> Especially for women tech writers, these locker-room expressions may be
> embarrassing to use and frequently totally out of character for the worker,
> speaker or writer to have to use.

(Quick look downward... Yup, I still qualify as a woman!) Huh???
To me, "locker room" gives more of a baudy, off-color sexually
feeling than violence. This doesn't wash with me. *I'm* a woman
technical writer. I have worked with lots of other women technical
writers. We all nuke our lunch just the same.
> We don't need to "nuke" a file; we can "delete" the file just as easily. We
> can "terminate" or "stop" a session instead of "aborting" it. (snip)

I've never seen "nuke" used as a synonym for delete in documentation, so
I'll let that go. But certainly "terminate" and "stop" have totally
different meanings from "abort", which carries with it the "abnormal"
and "without completion" connotations missing from the other two choices.

> (snip) We don't need to go along with language fads and
> trade jargon; it is the business of writers to communicate effectively, so that
> any reader with the need to pick up the document will be able to understand
> what is written therein.

And how can you do this -- communicate effectively and efficiently --
while ignoring commonplace terminology?

Case in point... There is a switch that will shut down all machinery in
an emergency. In your procedures, you decide that the word "kill" is too
violent for your users, so you write around it. You say, "in the event of
an emergency, flip the red emergency machinery shut-down switch, which is
located..." instead of the more common, more succinct, and easier/quicker
to read "flip the red kill switch, which is located...". Have you done
your readers a service??? I don't think so.

> Admittedly I have a personal bias towards "cute" and trendy speech; but the
> question of effective communication is what we are talking about here. Slang
> and trade jargon should be used as little as possible. (snip)

Well, OK, I agree about slang. But trade jargon? Nope. Should not be
"limited" -- not if you want your audience to know what you're talking
about -- and definitely *not* if you want to command respect from your
audience. The fastest way to lose a professional audience is to write
in your own language rather than theirs. Using the terms your audience
uses convinces them that you know what you're talking about, so wins their
trust in your instructions because you're the "expert". Writing around
industry-specific terms can be disasterous from that perspective.

And I'm not saying that you need to use every buzzword that's in-fashion
at the moment. Nor am I saying that you're writing should be incomprehen-
sible to those new in the industry or to outsiders. And you should
certainly provide a glossary. But, not use perfectly acceptable and
meaning-specific English words because they have "violent" connotations?

> (snip) Maybe someday someone will be able finally to get rid of
> "male" and "female" connectors and receptacles, although that one has been
> around for a long time and it won't be easy.

LOL! *That* one has been around since we all ran around nekkid! Lots of
luck changing it at this stage of the game! Besides, you have to admit,
it's wonderfully descriptive, now, isn't it???

Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com
-- The _Guide_ is definitive.
Reality is frequently inaccurate.

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