TITLE: A New Entry for my Vocabulary AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 18, 2006 6:24 PM DESC: ----- BODY: In my last entry I quoted a passage from Paul Graham's essay Copy What You Like. Graham encourages students of all sorts to develop the taste to recognize good stuff in their domain, and then to learn by copying it. My friend Richard Gabriel is both computer scientist and poet. He has often talked of how writers copy from one another -- not just style, but sentences and phrases and even the words that catch our ears, that sound just right when used in the right place. In that spirit I will steal, er, copy a word from Graham. Most of the words that our discipline has added to the broader lexicon are hideous abominations, jargon used to replace already useful words. The next time I hear someone use "interface" as a verb in place of the older, humbler, and perfectly fine "interact", well, I don't know what I'll do. But it won't be pleasant. In this vein, I did recently hear an unusual word choice from a graduate student recently moved hear from Russia. Instead of "interaction", she used "intercourse". It sounded charming and had a subtly different connotation, but these days in the U.S. I suspect that most folks would look askance at you for this word choice. But in "Copy...", Graham put a CS jargon word to good use in ordinary conversation:
It was so clearly a choice of doing good work xor being an insider that I was forced to see the distinction.
Standard English doesn't have a good word with the meaning of "xor"; "or" admits the same confusion in regular conversation that it does in logic. But sometimes we really want to express an 'exclusive or', and "xor" is perfect. Now I'm on the look-out for an opportunity to drop this word into a conversation! -----