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Who's Human?

Rosie right

An interesting essay by David Orr in the July-August Utne Reader laments the careless use of words and the tendency to substitute silly general words — such as whatever or really. He tells us: In the past 50 years by one reckoning the working vocabulary of the average 14 year old has declined from 25,000 words to 10,000. This is a decline not merely in words but in the capacity to think."

Orr laments the use of specialized language by "corporate chiefs, global managers, genetic engineers and money speculators. … Evil begins not only with words used with malice but also with words that diminish people, land and life."

In another article, "When the Geeks Get Snide," by New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani the gist is a discussion of the language computer geeks speak. It is Kakutani's complaint that computer geeks speak a language which "conjures up a chilly, utilitarian world in which people are equated with machines and social Darwinism rules." Some of the terms she uses as examples for this chilly tendency are

Uninstalled - being fired

Plug-and-play - a new employee who needs no training

Nonlinear behavior - acting irrationally

Actually, when the computer language is not equating people to machines, the terms can be equally scary. Look at the term Death March that Rosie found on the Microsoft Lexicon Web site. There, Death March means: "The long, lingering final countdown to a ship date, involving 16-25-hour days, catnaps on couches, and plenty of "flat food" (food, mostly from vending machines, that you can slip under people's doors so they can keep working).

It is difficult to see what we could do to stem new concepts. Language has always reflected the society its users live in. But, perhaps we should look at our world and see if, indeed, we are treating each other as extensions of the machines which seem to have a more and more important place in our lives.

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