I’ve complained for years about people in my profession (computers) treating English with startling abandon. My favorite example is still the redefining of the word “deprecated”, as in “this html tag has been deprecated.” Ask most computer people what deprecated means and they’ll say “deleted” or “rendered obsolete”. (Or even “obsoleted”!)

No. To deprecate is to strongly disapprove of, as in “I deprecate her outlandish behavior”, or (ahem) “I deprecate the computer industry’s misuse of the word ‘deprecate’”.

Deprecate could be used properly to indicate something that can still be used, but whose usage isn’t approved. In that case, the correct sentence is “this html tag is deprecated.” I applaud Dave Thomas of the Pragmatic Programmers for getting this right most of the time in his books.

Here’s another one I read today, from a Microsoft article: Shadow Copy

The Volume Shadow Copy Service tells the writers to quiesce their data and temporarily freeze requestor (application) I/O write requests….

To quiesce, when used as a verb, means to become quiet. “I wish my neighbors would quiesce at night.”

But in the Computer English, quiesce means to render inactive (quiescent). Now, this isn’t so bad, I’ll admit. I can make the argument that it’s reasonably correct, even a somewhat impressive use of the word. However, I think a better word could have been chosen that wouldn’t make readers head toward their dictionaries, or, more commonly, infer the meaning from context and thus create a whole new denotation. “Before entering the car wash, please quiesce your car.”

Couldn’t the Shadow Copy Service just tell writers to finalize their data?


Someone’s going to tell me that language changes1, and that this usage of quiesce is perfectly fine. Fine. My beef isn’t with change. It’s with the arrogance and ignorance in my field. The ignorance of their misuse of words, and the arrogance of saying “well, that’s what it means now, because we say so.”


1 In fact, the definition of deprecate has changed over time to become synonymous with “depreciate” (to reduce in stature, to belittle). One article I read pointed out that in most cases, when people say “self deprecate” they really mean “self depreciate”.


Comments? Have I really gone to far this time, and truly splitting hairs? (Or, for dinner, splitting hares.)