Dangerous Language

Jerry Weinberg has a wonderful post on the power of language.

Two snippets:

When someone hears that a dog is attack trained, chances are about one in three that they’ll turn to the dog and command: KILL!

As a joke.

Or just to see what the dog will do.

To protect against this idiotic human behavior, this carelessness with words, attack-dog trainers never use words like “kill” as the attack command. Instead, they use innocent words like “health” that would never be given in a command voice.


A janitor can assume that changing one washer in the kitchen sink won’t incur great risk of causing the building to collapse and bury all the occupants. It’s not safe to make the same assumption for a program used every day to run a business, but because we are so free and arbitrary with words, the word “maintenance” has been misappropriated from the one circumstance to the other.

Whoever coined the word “maintenance” for computer programs was as careless and unthinking as the person who trains an attack dog to kill on the command KILL or HELLO. With the wisdom of hindsight, I would suggest that the “maintenance” programmer is more like a brain surgeon than a janitor—because opening up a working system is more like opening up a human brain and replacing an nerve than opening up a sink and replacing a washer. Would maintenance be easier to manage if it were called “software brain surgery”?

Go read the whole thing.

One thought on “Dangerous Language

  1. Once, for a joke, when seeing a friend walking down the drive to my house I turned to my dog and said ‘KILL!’. She heard every part of the venom and no part of the irony and belted off down the drive after my friend…

    I’m sorry, I was going to be serious but the image of seeing my friend run to the nearest tree and trying to climb is still very funny, albeit many years later.

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