Re: Terminology nitpicking (was: Positive feedback...)

Subject: Re: Terminology nitpicking (was: Positive feedback...)
From: Sandy Harris <sharris -at- dkl -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 1999 16:58:00 -0400

Tracy Boyington wrote:
> Sandy Harris wrote:
> > Anne Nonymous wrote quite a good post, but titled it:
> >
> > "Positive feedback from supervisors"
> >
> > This triggers a pet peeve of mine. ...
> (Eric, I promise, this *is* related to tech writing).

My previous post was not intended as a personal attack on anonymous.
My apologies if it sounded that way. I was trying to raise the questions
which Tracy asks more clearly below.

> ... When jargon leaves its boundaries, don't we eventually have to accept
> it? At what point do we, as professional communicators, stop saying "you can't
> use the term that way because that's not what it originally meant," and *start*
> saying "since most of the world thinks X means Y, it's time to recognize that X
> means Y"?

If the term has a clearly defined technical sense, e.g. "positive or
negative feedback"
from cybernetics or "positive or negative reinforcement" from
behaviourist psychology,
I don't think it is /ever/ correct to use it in a way that ignores or
contradicts that
sense, e.g. using "negative reinforcement" to mean "punishment".

> This interests me because I'm in education and have some
> responsibility to educate as well as inform. Is anyone else occasionally caught
> between the "correct" way and the effective way to communicate?

The word "hacker" is a nice example of this. Does it mean a skilled
programmer (the
original sense) or a system-breaker?

One side of argument is in Stallman's letter taking the New York Times
to task
for misusing the term, quoted at the bottom of this page:

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