Re: Esoteric terminology - Heartbeat (fwd)

Subject: Re: Esoteric terminology - Heartbeat (fwd)
From: Betsy Perry <betsyp -at- VNET -dot- NET>
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 1998 08:29:09 -0500

Hoo-hah. My rule of thumb on jargon is that if the term is already
used outside my company (e.g. master-slave, heartbeat, marshalling),
it's too late to come up with an alternative; using a different term
in my company's documentation will confuse more people than it helps.

However, if the industry jargon is genuinely ambiguous even within the
industry, I think you have a good case.

------- start of forwarded message -------

Mechanical engineers and reliability engineers, among others, use the
term infant mortality.

However, the project I am working on involves an FDA-regulated device
used for diagnostic testing in hospitals and other clinical
laboratories. It is particularly used in reproductive medicine.

I discussed the matter with the reliability engineer in question, and he
insisted that infant mortality is a term of art, well understood by
anyone who would be involved in regulating the device on the FDA side
and that any phrase I might come up with to substitute for it would be a
euphemism that would obfuscate rather than clarify.

------- end of forwarded message -------

In your case, the most urgent question is, _who is the documentation
audience_? If the documentation you write is to be read only by
mechanical and reliability engineers, then "infant mortality" may be
unambiguous. If these documents are read by ICU nurses, "infant
mortality" is dangerously ambiguous, and will very likely hurt your
product's sales.

This is one of the rare cases where I would push back even on
industry-standard jargon; I'd argue hard for "early failure" on the
grounds that, though the product is being built and evaluated by
reliability engineers, it is being used by people for whom "infant
mortality" has a very different (and very emotionally loaded)
connotation. After all, though a master carpenter may say "Move that
stud a c.h. to the left" to his assistant, he wouldn't say it to the
client who was making a site visit. (C.H. is a vulgar abbreviation
for pubic hair, and thus is a way of saying "a tiny bit"; I think I
encountered this usage in Tracy Kidder's _House_.)
Elizabeth Hanes Perry betsyp -at- vnet -dot- net

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