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Computer Jargon Is User-Unfriendly

COMPUTERS are easy, remember? User-friendly. All that technical stuff was watered down for the human race years ago. Take this press release, for example:NORWOOD, MA., September 9, 1991 Microcom, Inc., the internetworking vendor known for the development of the MNP[R] modem standard, today announced the new Microcom Bridge/Router[TM] (MBR[TM]) family that provides Token Ring and Ethernet LANs with efficient remote communications across WAN links, using IPX routing and 4x data compression. OK, it's a little rough the first time. Let's go slowly. A LAN is a local area network. A WAN is a wide area network. MNP has something to do with computer modems. Token Ring is a kind of LAN (or perhaps an important element in New-Age weddings?). Let's move on to the ads: Boca quality plus V.42bis and MNP5 support for superior performance from a 2400 bps modem! I can't wait till they introduce a verb. Borland C++ 2.0 with Rogue Wave's Tools.h++ and Math.h++ ... Exclusively from The Programmer's Shop It has to be exclusive. No other company could type a phrase like that. Of course, computer officials don't talk the way they write. "At Seybold, we will be demonstrating a modular Autokon and a PC ScriptSetter," stated Jeff Aghjayan, manager, VAR Business Development. "The modular Autokon will feature our new Mac-Mod-Pac which provides a direct interface into a Mac, without the need of an ECRM Buffered SCSI Interface." I don't know why, but it's somehow appropriate to note that SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) is pronounced "scuzzy." Also important: ECRM is not SCSI. It's the Massachusetts company that sent me the press release. Every industry tweaks the English language with its jargon. The computer industry destroys it. How else can one explain all those acronyms (WYSIWYG, CD-ROM), those absurd numbers and weird punctuations (Smalltalk/V, cc:Mail, OS/2 2.0), and those oddly capitalized names (WordPerfect, dBase, NeXT)? "I hate it when they do that," says Alex Randall, head of the Boston Computer Exchange. So what did Mr. Randall call his price list of used computers? The BoCoEx Index, of course. "What we have is people speaking their own language," says Matthew Dickerson, a computer-science professor at Middlebury College, in Middlebury, Vt., who teaches English literature on the side. "Unfortunately, rather than the computer industry learning to speak English, they are forcing the rest of the world to speak computerese," he says. Some of the computerese is understandable. The industry is still young, creating things that have never existed before. Some terms, such as the mouse, are elegant in their simplicity. "I think that's why we have all these acronyms, like BIOS. It just sounds nice," says Ken Ryan. "Who's going to say Basic Input Output System more than two or three times?" Mr. Ryan was so befuddled by the jargon when he went to buy his first computer that he took a year to research the subject and another year to write a book for beginners, called "Computer Anxiety? Instant Relief!" Surprisingly, Ryan isn't too concerned about computerese because he thinks it's strictly transitional. Someday soon, computers will be so powerful and sophisticated they'll adapt to users rather than the other way around. Users won't need to know the jargon then, he says. Mr. Dickerson says the problem is more endemic, caused by the kind of narrow, "hacker mentality" that pervades the industry. Too few computer people are trained in the liberal arts, such as logic and writing, or even in computer science, he says. C'mon, computer industry! Don't intimidate people. Start a revolution for plain English. You could even call it something. Let's see.... How about CompuEase A-B-C? (Version 1.0, of course.)