Technical language

People in some technical professions use plain language — short words that sound like regular English. People in other highly technical professions do just the opposite.

For example, civil engineers and plumbers use short English words to describe things. Words like “span” and “load”, “valve”, “pressure” and “pipe”.

The language of doctors is quite different. Their words tend to be much longer and in latin. Finger is “phelange”, forward is “anterior”, down the middle is “sagittal”.

It’s as though there are working class technical fields and upper class technical fields. Plumbers and engineers are working class — it’s all just about getting the job done. Doctors are upper class — it’s still about getting the job done, but it’s also about something else, something more rarefied.

In computer science we tend to use simple English words when plying our craft, like “heap”, “stack”, “array”, “float” and “return”. I guess that makes us a working class technical field.

4 Responses to “Technical language”

  1. David A Smith says:

    When I worked for a defense contractor, the technical terms were mostly TLAs (three letter acronyms). This is likely mirrored from the military. Quite often, the person using the TLA did not remember what it stood for, but could talk at length about what it did.

  2. Adrian says:

    “Professional-class” computer science jargon: alpha, beta, lambda, initialization, instantiation, symbolication, optimization, trie, hexadecimal, architecture, virtual indirection.

    “Working-class” computer science jargon: tree, heap, stack, client/server, boxing, parsing.

    “???-class” computer science jargon: foo, bar, baz, zerz, zork, fizzbuzz, frobnicate.

  3. J. Peterson says:

    Some computer science terms are a side-effect of compilers and linkers in the ’60s & ’70s trying to fit as many symbols as possible into tiny address spaces.

    That’s why we have “kill” instead of “TerminateProcess”

  4. Ben Kanegson says:

    I would posit that a root of this division between “working class’ professions and (elite ?) class professions is the degree to which that profession does or doesn’t wish to share information with those outside the profession.

    On one end of the spectrum, (working class) plumbers fundamentally want to easily communicate to non-plumbers about their projects. On any given project, they must interface with clients and other trades. On the other end, (elite or upper class) medical professions have a hyper-political history of the AMA fighting the ADA for turf, and a culture and tradition of caste like separation between practitioners and patients.

    This unnecessary layer of purposeful division through coding was cheerfully debunked by Professor Feinman with his “map of the cat”; and he brazenly sliced through the jargon of other similarly self-exclusive disciplines.

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