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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Language Precision

I have a ton of training to take at work over the next month. One of these classes was last Thursday and was filled with engineers. It was also taught by an engineer. The class was supposed to take an hour, but I looked around the room and thought, No way are we getting out of here that quickly. The only thing that might save me is the class went from 10am to 11 and a lot of engineers go to lunch at 11.

It didn't take long for me to groan silently to myself. One of the first manual sections we reviewed contained the words: and/or. An engineer asked for clarification, and when he received it, began to argue that it should be and, not and/or.

One of the things that still amazes me is how many engineers demand exact precision in language and how literally they'll take every word. Some don't, but a lot do. And just try using the secondary definition of a word. Yeah, argument time for sure.

Nothing makes me crazier than when I'm talking to one of them and I say something like, "You should wear a red shirt on Fridays--" I don't even get to finish that sentence before they'll jump on the phrasing. You see they take should to be an order and don't like that. Never mind that I'm not trying to give an order. I'm just saying that I heard wearing a red shirt on Fridays is a way to show support for the US troops, but they think I'm telling them they have to wear a red shirt. Sigh.

So there we are in training with an engineer arguing over and/or and other engineers jumped in to support him. The engineer leading the course took a note, deciding that his fellow brethren had a point--and/or wasn't precise enough.

This is the way the entire class went, but that was about the only time anyone in that room participated. The instructor would ask a question and they'd all sit there. When you're told up front that the entire class would circle back to one fact, wouldn't you make a note of it? And when the question was asked, wouldn't you give that answer? Apparently not if you're an engineer. I, however, have a journalism degree. I did note it and when the rest of them sat there, I gave the correct answer. :-)

And yes, the class did run over, but only about 10 or 15 minutes. I feared it was going to be much worse.