Understanding The Gobbledegook Of It Speak

The difference between those of us who are burdened with a legal education and the IT experts who believe their language has to be as complex and difficult as their IT applications is that we do not publicly use such convoluted language, particularly on the internet. If one objectively analyses the words I used as an example of IT speak at the beginning of this article, who or what really migrates to a new platform? I know fish migrate from one ocean to the other; wilder beasts migrate from one place in Africa to another; so do the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica as the National Geographic so graphically tells us… and so do indigent immigrants who migrate from one country to another

l by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

(February 18, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) Recently, I tried to gain access to a webpage and the message I received was : “Our web presence is currently undergoing migration to a new platform. The content you are looking for may not have been migrated yet, or this 404 error might also be related to a non-existent page or incorrectly defined URL”. Not only was this Double Dutch to me but also, I was left hanging in there with a lot of gobbledegook that sounded impressive and weirdly erudite but profoundly unhelpful.
While I have the highest respect for IT experts and the yeoman service they render to the information and entertainment highway, I believe a simple: “unable to access? This might be a temporary glitch in our services. Try this link…” would have been much more helpful to the non technical bucolic man or woman from the boondocks desperately seeking information. This made me think. What if I gave the following advice to my client? “The revocation by these Regulations of a saving on the previous revocation of a provision does not affect the operation of the saving in so far as it is not specifically reproduced in these Regulations but remains capable of having effect”. That would have clarified matters so much in my client’s head!
The difference between those of us who are burdened with a legal education and the IT experts who believe their language has to be as complex and difficult as their IT applications is that we do not publicly use such convoluted language, particularly on the internet. If one objectively analyses the words I used as an example of IT speak at the beginning of this article, who or what really migrates to a new platform? I know fish migrate from one ocean to the other; wilder beasts migrate from one place in Africa to another; so do the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica as the National Geographic so graphically tells us… and so do indigent immigrants who migrate from one country to another. But data? Seriously! The free online dictionary defines “migrate” as “to move from one country or region and settle in another; to change location periodically, especially by moving seasonally from one region to another”. Then there is the phrase “non existent page” if a page is a page, how could it be nonexistent? And what on earth is an “incorrectly defined URL”? Just to make sure, I scoured the internet for a definition and found none! With the greatest difficulty, I found out from a “URL” called ITDictionary.com that URL meant “uniform resource locator”! What is a uniform resource locator? A matchmaker who some of us might still use to help our hapless unmarried progeny or siblings is a “uniform resource locator”. I also found out that 404 is an HTTP status code whatever that might be and that HTTP was something called Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Honestly, is there no easier terminology?
In 1921 The Departmental Committee on the Teaching of English in England made public the statement that “”What a man cannot state he does not perfectly know, and conversely the inability to put his thoughts into words sets a boundary to his thought… . English is not merely the medium of our thought; it is the very stuff and process of it.” This is consistent with what Philip Atkinson said more recently in 2009 : “Language is the expression of thought, with the translation of notions into words being the act of understanding. The understanding of an idea can be improved by simplifying the words used to express the idea. The understanding of an idea can be improved by shortening the number of words used to express the idea. The exercise of improving the expression of an idea is the improvement of the understanding of that idea. The more plain the use of language, the more clearly an idea is revealed. The more clearly an idea is revealed, the better the understanding of that idea. If an idea cannot be expressed in plain English, it cannot be understood”.
It is vulgar for one to deliberately cultivate obscurity in language as a stylistic device by any profession. Although law is a complex discipline, it encourages plain language as a vehicle for social change and the enforcement of citizen’s rights. In the IT context it seems an irony and paradox that, on the one hand it enables the user to gain accessibility to knowledge, but on the other it precludes him for understanding what they are trying to convey.
So here is some advice to the IT experts: first, know your audience. In all writing, the first rule is to know your audience and the first question in any form of writing is: for whom are you writing? Second, educate the reader as to what is coming. Give the impression that the text to follow will actually help him in getting to where he wants to go. Third, frame the issue briefly without too much unwanted and incoherent information. Fourth, state the facts succinctly. The fewer the words the better.
I have made a resolution. If IT experts can use their own language at office meetings and in the public domain, so would I – get intoxicated with the exuberance of my own verbosity and, the next time I am asked for a legal opinion say: Omnia Preasumuntur rite esse acta. Figure it out IT experts. And by the way, I came across an excellent URL : http://www.clarityenglish.com/ If the content you are looking for may not have been migrated yet, or if this 404 error might be related to a non-existent page or incorrectly defined URL, you could try http://www.facebook.com/clarityenglish

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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