Over on LinuxInsider Katherine Noyes discusses “GNU/Linux” vs. “Linux”.

It’s a little bit like the recent problem with dictionaries. In the good old days, dictionary meanings were derived from the usage of a word, mainly as it appeared in print. Print usage was often not public usage, but the way experts understood the word’s meaning. Who else but the expert was able to get their writing into print? More recently, dictionaries are able to comb a wider source of usage. The masses speak through dictionaries these days. What was once identified in special “slang” lists is now found in official dictionary wordlists.

We, the unwashed, now make words appear in the official record.

Gerhard Mack, one person quoted in the article states, in part, “The public recognizes it as Linux, so it’s Linux.” Let’s look at the reality, though, I’d bet most of the public doesn’t ever use the word “Linux.” The public I encounter often frown with a tilted head, body language which usually means, “What?” They use Windows and don’t know it is an operating system/GUI. They confuse MS Office and Windows, thinking them to be the same. “I use Windows for my written documents,” they say as I look at MS Office open on their monitor.

The “digital natives” are no better. Ask a bunch of kids about the computer they use. You might be surprised how little they know about it, especially the terminology.

Most of the public doesn’t know the difference between the box and the processor. I’ve consistently heard my friends call the tower by their desk “the CPU.” That’s the ones who even use the term CPU at all.

We’re generally sloppy with our language. One former US President referred to “nuclear” energy as “nucular.” For way too many of us, the “arctic” is the “artic.”

Of course, GNU/Linux is a bigger mouthful, which has always been a problem for us. Except when we have just finished watching “Mary Poppins”, we rarely use Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in conversation. Maybe “great” or even “really great” suffices.

Language correctness is a battle never won.

Still, if you are a thoughtful advocate for software freedom, you’ll acknowledge the importance of the thought (some say philosophy) behind saying GNU/Linux, at least once in a while

Thank you, RMS.


Photo CC-BY-SA BZHGeek on Flickr