Technical Vocabulary and Grammar

19 Jan 2006

I sometimes wonder why people feel so compelled to use technical terms when talking about computers, even when they don't know what the terms mean. In my experience, those who know the least about a particular topic use the most complicated vocabulary when discussing it. I considered compiling a list of the popular ones, but since I'm lazy and have a blog, I decided to blog about it instead. :-) Feel free to add to the list.

For some reason, there are multiple terms used for a computer. What's wrong with computer? I guess it doesn't sound cool enough, but drives and processors do. For the record:

I'm sure this list could go on, but those are the two I see misused all the time. To me, they're just important computer parts.

Another problem is when technical terms closely resemble other, more common words. For example, have you ever had someone try to discuss object-orientated programming or tell you that a feature has been depreciated? I have. For the record:

(Spell checkers are partially to blame for these, because I think many people rely on them to determine when they've chosen the right combination of characters.)

I'm no grammar expert, so I'm sure I make my share of mistakes. Sometimes, what's considered correct just doesn't sound right. For example, why must companies be considered plural? When I think about a company, I always use a singular verb:

I wonder what Brain Bulb is up to these days.

Technically, I think this is wrong (anyone know for sure?), but I just can't bring myself to use a plural verb:

I wonder what Brain Bulb are up to these days.

Doesn't that sound weird? Another one is data, the plural of datum:

I'm going to store those data in MySQL.

I can never bring myself to say that, and it has nothing to do with my database preference. :-) Luckily, treating data as a singular noun appears to be gaining acceptance, according to a usage note:

Sixty percent of the Usage Panel accepts the use of data with a singular verb and pronoun in the sentence Once the data is in, we can begin to analyze it.

I'm not sure what the Usage Panel is, but it sounds important.

Another one that really bugs me is the way quotes are handled in the US:

"I think our quoting rules are dumb," Chris thinks to himself.

For whatever reason, it's required that the comma be within the quotes there, and this complete lack of precision bugs me, especially when writing about technical topics (where precision is important). The Jargon File agrees:

Then delete a line from the file by typing "dd."

In a vi tutorial, the period is actually misleading, because "dd." will delete a line and then repeat the last command, deleting two lines. The ambiguity caused by the lack of precision required by US grammatical rules can be very misleading. Is it better to be right or be clear? I usually choose clarity, but that's just me.