My e-mail service went down last month for a full day. When it finally came back up, I received an apology from its administrator, saying: “users experienced e-mail connectivity issues.” Bullhockey, Mr. Administrator. I did not experience “an issue.” I experienced the lack of e-mail because your servers were down. I experienced the waste of my time, the delay of my projects and the loss of my income. I experienced anger at your enterprise, which promised reliability but didn’t deliver. And I experienced even greater anger at your attempt to downplay your malpractice by using that worst of all weasel words: “issue.”
Don’t get me started on the “I” word. I have no problem with its meaning of distribution, as in “the issue of food and blankets to flood victims.” Nor do I mind its meaning of offspring, as in “my issue is two daughters, on whom the sun rises and sets,” nor for designating a specific month’s magazine, as in “the September issue of MSDN Magazine,” which you are now reading. But I hereby fling scorn and disdain at weasels who use this term to mean “software malfunction,” hoping that the users whom that malfunction harms will somehow be less angry at them than if they had said, “Gosh, we know you had no e-mail because we screwed up, and we know how we hate it when that happens to us, so we’re really, really sorry and we’ll give you a free month of service for your trouble—maybe two months if you squawk really loudly.”
The apology’s author uses the “I” word five times in four paragraphs, including the memorable phrase, “Once the configuration issues were resolved and all the servers were online, we discovered that some users were still experiencing issues …” Please, somebody, put this guy out of his misery.
Weasel words aren’t harmless. They try to hide a problem that needs to be solved—Johnny has “a drinking issue.” No he doesn’t. Johnny’s a drunk. As any recovering alcoholic will tell you, the very first word of the very first step to recovery is “Admit.” Johnny won’t get better until he stops hiding behind weasel words, until he can stand up in public and say: “My name is Johnny, and I am an alcoholic, but I don’t want to be a drunk anymore.” His loved ones hope he does that before he kills himself or someone else. Using the “I” word only postpones that day of realization.
Developers don’t talk in weasel words, and we don’t like hearing them. We’re engineers; solving problems is what we do. Before we can solve a problem, we need to recognize its existence and call it by its correct name. You can always tell a developer who’s starting to drink the manager’s Kool-Aid, bucking for a raise. He goes away on a training program retreat, comes back with a tie and a lobotomy scar, and starts referring to bugs as issues. And then, like any zombie, he tries to eat your brain so you’ll be a zombie too: “Bob, can I have your list of issues by Friday?”
At Tech•Ed some years ago, I exhorted my listeners: “It’s not an issue, it’s a bug. Say the word. Say it loudly: Bug. B as in Bad. U as in Ugly. G as in Gol-dangit, I’ve got a bug.” I got a standing ovation.
If you want to issue supplies, read a magazine issue, or even take issue with my writing here, fine. But don’t use the “I” word to mean “software malfunction.” That tells your users that you don’t share their concerns, that you don’t really give a darn about them, that you think they’re stupid enough to believe your twaddle. It’s a blatant form of disrespect toward the people who pay your salary, who put bread into your children’s mouths and a roof over their heads. And I have a serious problem—not an issue—with that.
Request to readers: Do you have any favorite examples of weasel words? Send them to me via rollthunder.com, and I’ll use the best of them in a future column.
David S. Platt teaches Programming .NET at Harvard University Extension School and at companies all over the world. He is the author of 11 programming books, including “Why Software Sucks” (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2006) and “Introducing Microsoft .NET” (Microsoft Press, 2002). Microsoft named him a Software Legend in 2002. He wonders whether he should tape down two of his daughter’s fingers so she learns how to count in octal. You can contact him at rollthunder.com.
I suppose referring to a BUG as an "Opportunity for Improvement" would cause a few coronary's. As a manager I have had to draft those emails, and so I am sensitive to the users and had a boss who wanted me to refer to an outage as "We experienced an Opportunity to Improve" etc....
LOL... I completly agree, people keep using weasel words instead of just say: "Damn I was wrong" or "Ok, we know we f***, we are sorry." as perfect as people and companies want to appear down the line we all mess up from time to time. Regards
You left out "a point in question or a matter that is in dispute"..a perfectly good use of the word Issue. So if something is not working, and people are wondering why [a point in question] or in disagreement [dispute]...It is an Issue. It may (or may not be) a Bug.
I don't mind "issue" as much as "we". When folks use plural pronouns to refer to work "I" will be doing, it's just stupid. When do you think *we* will have that done? Are you taking credit for my work? Are you trying to soften the blow of asking me for a status update? I didn't know it was a group project, you weasel!
This article might as well not have been written. We have enough grammar police patrolling the internet. I don't need to read one's worthless article when looking for developer knowledge. I'm sure the subject who used the grammar you despise was actually not trying to weasel his way out of anything. Email works or it doesn't, what is there to weasel out of exactly? Maybe you should spend less time worrying about verbiage and more time picking an email provider that is redundant enough not to go down for an entire day. Which is the real reason for your anger here, not the words he used to to describe the problem. /annoyed reader.
We all have around 80 years to find out we were not fully living at all and that we have been weaseling all the time... That's how the life-developer developed life! Maybe he got the spec's wrong?
Yes Jamie, you are right. "Gol-dangit" is indeed a weasel word. But it was as close as my editor was willing to get to the one I actually did use in the talk I describe. His bosses would have had serious issues with him if he had quoted me directly.
I agree with the article, as well as @David_Clarke: the term "bug" is more linguistic severity-softening. It's as if a "bug" is something that prevents/impedes work, or just annoys the heck out of me, whereas a "defect" is something that enables hackers to steal my credit card numbers. To be sure, defects have severity levels, but are we kidding ourselves with our own use of the word "bug", admitting that our software may have "issues", but isn't necessarily "defective"?
Stop using the word Bug to describe a Defect or Error in your code. Referring to a Defect or Error as a Bug is a more subtle but just as mendacious way of attempting to minimise the seriousness of Defects. Ref: <http://www.sei.cmu.edu/library/abstracts/news-at-sei/wattsmar99.cfm>
I have to say that, actually, word "issue" has a meaning of "a vital or unsettled matter, concern, problem" (yes, it is in a dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/issue). I understand it is pretty funny to ignore this particular definition - after all, I did enjoy reading the article. However, it is not exactly honest. It may seem that the author has some kind of an issue here.
And one more thing: You need to appear on Channel9 for some serious shows. I don't care what topic!
It's funny that your column is "Don't get me started", because all I want you to is never to stop! Thanks David.
"Gol-dangit" is a weasel word.
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