Choice of Expression

Oct 31st, 2002 by Tony in QSM3

Culture makes language, then language makes culture. When you arrive at your destination but your bags don’t, the baggage handler shapes the context by asking “Did you lose your luggage?” This presupposition may have been originated by the airlines and taught quite intentionally in the handler’s training, but by now it’s completely unconscious. You can see that it is unconscious by replying, “No, you lost my luggage,” and observing the confused look of someone whose cultural assumptions have been violated. If repeated a few times, it also brings you a much better chance of effective handling of your problem.

The same influence is seen is software engineering cultures.

Organizations that use “bug language” develop and maintain software in a different way than those that use “fault language.” When someone says “I was late because there was a bug in my program,” you could change the frame a tiny bit by replying, “Oh, when did you put the mistake in the program?” Merely changing the language may not cause people to take responsibility for their creations, but it certainly helps. Once you reach a certain threshold, social pressure starts to act on those who continue to evade responsibility by using bug language.

— Jerry Weinberg, Quality Software Management Vol 3, Chapter 16

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