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    I recognize these techniques from sensitivity training, a sort of corporation-approved brainwashing which takes three steps:

    • First, forget that certain phrases mean anything
    • Second, explore new meanings and phrases
    • Third, lock the new phrases into place, erasing the old meanings forever

    It doesn’t work, but it certainly can cause mental harm, especially in workplaces which use this sort of NLP approach to communication.

    If you can’t explain a term, you do not understand it.

    I hope that the author has not forgotten how the Law of Contraposition works. Even if you can explain a term, you still might not understand it.

    You begin to discover you didn’t always really know what you were talking about…

    Nobody ever knows what they are talking about. Nobody actually knows anything. The author’s tenure as a lawyer may have obscured that by operationalizing an entire ecosystem of formal concepts, an experience ironically similar to learning how to program.

    I’ll give the author a hint. The public domain is the collection of all published works, minus those works which are protected by copyright. The proprietary works are those which are not in the public domain, and additionally for which the copyright holders have not extended a license to the general public which would entitle them to use the works as if they were in the public domain.

    The author has forgotten that the reason that we release Free Software is so that we can tear down a system of corporate control. Instead, they are actively embracing and desiring that system.

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      The real shame with sensitivity training is that it is done in place of effective action on discrimination. The people buying it have understood that there’s a problem and then bought one of the least effective treatments.

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        I noticed your profile includes a line of lojban. Part of the lojban language’s origin is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which suggests that the terms of your vocabulary affect how you can think. On that basis, I once studied some lojban, aspiring to more perspective and capability. I wonder if you approached it with the same goal? Obviously I did not intend to stop speaking English, but some time away was helpful.

        What I’m getting at is, I didn’t read this article as brainwashing. Conditioning, perhaps? I understood it as just another tool in our belts for addressing the pervasive problem of relating more closely to people who are different from us.

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          The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis comes in several flavors. My personal observations disprove even the weakest flavors; personally, after trying to teach logic to Lojbanists, I have concluded that learning Lojban gives no bonus towards comprehending the foundations of mathematics and logic. It is useful to have words which designate concepts, but since all models are wrong, we generally are always using a language which isn’t able to directly address most of the concepts which we wish to use. For a poignant example, many Lojbanists knew the word {bu'a} but failed to realize that this word’s existence implies that Lojban addresses second-order logic, rather than first-order logic as is typically claimed.

          It is entirely possible that I have practiced reading words in different ways from you. I read the author as recommending first that we forget what “open source” means:

          Nobody sees all of open source… Revisiting my “open source” past has proven incredibly valuable over the years. But also dangerous and disorienting. The more I think about what I’ve seen and done, the less I feel I know. I trust the “open source guy” I used to be less and less all the time.

          And second, to explore new meanings for “open source”:

          Where once “open source” represented the Way Things Work online, with little popular ideological opposition, those starting now tend to look elsewhere, and to different ideas, even if they end up as programmers. … To make it blunt: When you sit down to make some great software, we don’t ask first and foremost whether it will be open source.

          And finally, third, to erase the old meanings of “open source” forever:

          Step One: List out the jargon, archaism, and prolix you depend on. Step Two: Banish them from your speech, writing, and subconscious thought, as ruthlessly as possible. … We could do the same for “open source”. Instead of working “open source” into every conversation possible, and getting nowhere, I find it far more difficult, and eventually freeing, to do the opposite.

          However, the phrase “open source” was coined in order to create a more commercially friendly name for Free Software. These days, open source software is a cornerstone of many large corporate systems, including systems which are meant to control and oppress people; meanwhile, these same corporations often fear and forbid Free Software which fails to meet arbitrary but corporate-friendly licensing terms.

          This is why I read the author as having taken the path which I outlined. I think that this essay is another brick in the wall that some folks want to build in order to encourage the Free Software community to continue adopting corporation-friendly licenses.

          You will have to talk about history, motives, interests, and other pesky context.

          I think that the author thinks of me as a pest. That’s fair enough; I think that this is a lousy post.

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          The author proposes that a good way to examine whether you understand what jargon terms mean, whether you have intersubjective agreement on what they mean and to find out if they are useful, is to temporarily taboo them. As @roryokane notes in a parallel comment, this is not exactly novel or rocket science.

          That you recognize ‘these techniques’ as those of sensitivity training and subsequently choose to engage with the author in an adversarial way mostly tells us something about what you are worried about and is foremost in your mind, but unfortunately has little to do with the OP.

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            The author is a practicing lawyer in an adversarial court system; they can take critique on the nose. They have published an open-source software license. They have previously written about how they would like to change the definition of “open source”. They are deeply concerned with the particular words used in open-source licenses.

            I recognize a pattern of ideologically motivated writing. I find it interesting not only that you don’t see this pattern, but that your objections are all red herrings:

            • I agree that the author is proposing what you claim that they are proposing. That does not remove the “history, motives, interests, and other pesky context” from their writing.
            • I agree that defamiliarization, or “temporarily taboo[ing]” words, is not rocket science, but it is novel science; it’s part of literary analysis, akin to deconstruction. The author is free to critique licenses using their words, and we are free to critique the author’s words using our words.
            • I agree that, having become aware of cult practices and studied ideas like the BITE model for analyzing control and coercion, I am primed to notice when folks use certain words in certain ways. This doesn’t change that the author was using certain words in certain ways, though.

            So, rather than trying to insinuate something about me, would you like to reply to my points? I think that it is worth recalling the OSI’s own founding history:

            The conferees believed the pragmatic, business-case grounds that had motivated Netscape to release their code illustrated a valuable way to engage with potential software users and developers, and convince them to create and improve source code by participating in an engaged community. The conferees also believed that it would be useful to have a single label that identified this approach and distinguished it from the philosophically- and politically-focused label “free software.” Brainstorming for this new label eventually converged on the term “open source”, originally suggested by Christine Peterson.

            They explicitly wanted what I have implied the author wants in other comments: More corporate participation and business-friendly licensing, less philosophy and politics. What is interesting and concerning is that the author seems to go beyond the OSI in these desires; they effectively are trying to popularize yet another authoritative list of open-source licenses, and in this effort, it is unsurprising that they would like to take control of the phrase “open source” from OSI.

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              They have published an open-source software license. They have previously written about how they would like to change the definition of “open source”. They are deeply concerned with the particular words used in open-source licenses.

              I recognize a pattern of ideologically motivated writing.

              You may want to consider including such contextual information in a response, so readers who don’t recognize an author or domain can understand how your conclusions are not just pulled from the air.

              That does not remove the “history, motives, interests, and other pesky context” from their writing.

              Oh, but it does! If it isn’t pointed out, it might as well not exist. The absence of this information is exactly why I couldn’t make sense of your response.

              So, rather than trying to insinuate something about me

              I used the form often used to insinuate things, but plainly stated what I thought was going on.

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          This file of phrases may prove useful to somebody, somewhere.

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            Some of these lack the specificity or elegance of the phrase they’re replacing.

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              Look at this guy, still believing in nuance in $CURRENT_YEAR. :P

              More seriously, yep that is totally a problem. See also the difference between will/shall in contracts.

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              At least to me, thanks!

              My mother language being French, I tend to use over wordy formulation (and lengthy sentences) in English and really need to force myself to have a more direct and straight to the point style when writing in English.

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              This technique, temporarily banning vague words to avoid miscommunication, is also known as tabooing your words. Less Wrong has many posts on the technique.

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                Related reading: George Orwell’s classic essay Politics and the English Language, a no-nonsense short advisory on writing clearly. I think it’s far better than this article, for I see no reason to banish words like “hacker” and “proprietary” from one’s lexicon.

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                  I’ll note (in contrast with some of the takes offered in sibling comments) that Mitchell didn’t suggest permanently banning language from your lexicon. He says to try it for a week, as a way of forcing yourself to think about what you actually mean. A week!

                  Shorthands are useful, but once they become the only way we talk about certain things, they can end up obscuring and confusing things. Jargon is useful! Jargon has limits! Both of these can be true at the same time!

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                    Removing terms of art from your writing and thinking won’t improve anything. You still need to express the concepts, and communicate them to others, and communicate them to the yourself of six months from now, so you can’t avoid some way of referring to them. All removing the specific terms does is force you to create complex, elliptical circumlocutions to state what others can say in two words; even if you discount verbosity, that still requires others (or, as I mentioned, the you of six months from now) to disentangle whatever heap of neologisms you’ve come up with to state something others can say in a short, fixed phrase, all the while wondering what, exactly, is so all-fired different and special about the idea you’re trying to express that you can’t state it in a comprehensible fashion.

                    Sometimes it’s necessary to remove a word or phrase from your stock of them, for example when a term comes to be seen as insulting or when it’s simply no longer apt. For example, “policeman” as a fixed term is no longer up to the task of referring to referents who may not be male; its time has come and gone, and “police officer” is much more accurate and, at this point, more popular as well. However, the phrase “public domain” is still the simplest, most comprehensible, least jargon-laden way to talk about works not covered by copyright. Replacing it does nobody any favors.

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                      I think the point of this article is that by removing some terms from your vocabulary, you’re forced to think what you actually want to say and clarify what you mean, instead of using a “shorthand” which doesn’t necessarily convey all that much.

                      Of course, such shorthand – or jargon – is also useful in many cases, since it allows for easier communication, but a lot of these terms are quite fuzzy. What does “open source” mean? Well, ask a bunch of people and you’re likely to come up with a few different answers: some will point at the Open Source Definition, others will simply say “the source is available”, others will say something about community ownership or some such and that “over the wall” Open Source like Chrome isn’t true Open Source, and perhaps some more.

                      And even if we could get everyone to agree on a solid definition, then we’re still left with a situation where “Open Source” often doesn’t really capture all that much; to quote my comment from last week:

                      I have a few projects where I work on in my spare time for my own purposes, and I’ve very clearly said “Thanks for the bug report, I’ll fix it when I feel like it” on a number of occasions (in pretty much those words, with a little bit of context). Sometimes I feel like it the next day, sometimes much later. Sometimes never. On other projects expectations are a bit higher: one of my projects is paying the bills right now.

                      I’ve recently come to think that we just need new terms for this; “Open Source” or “Free Software” (whatever you prefer) just doesn’t capture any of this. Most projects fall in three categories: a business who open source something, someone who makes something in their spare time and puts it online “because why not?”, and people work on it in their spare time and really like being maintainers for these kind of things (rather than just working on it for their own purposes).

                      But perhaps we don’t really need new terms for this, but just say “This is the source code for a hobby project I work on in my spare time” rather than “This is my Open Source project”, and “ACME Inc. released the source code for Product Foo for [reason X]” rather than “Product Foo from ACME Inc. is Open Source”. This is simple plain language that anyone can understand, and actually conveys a lot for information too.

                      I do something similar with logical fallacies: I will never say “that is a strawman” or point out an ad hominem by name, but instead say “I don’t think that’s an accurate representation of what they said, instead, they meant […]”. While it’s more or less the same, the latter is just a much more useful way to have a conversation.

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                        Thanks. I’m not a native English speaker, so I feel this on my skin daily. I really appreciate well written technical prose. There’s reason and precision in jargon and specific terms that need to be used.

                        And while I often simplify the jargon for my clients as op suggests, I can’t avoid thinking this is part of a large cultural problem. IMHO exacerbated by the “Twitter attention span”. People seems too afraid to search terms in a dictionary or thesaurus, to ask, or to invest the concentration necessary.

                        Seems to me that we keep catering to the minimum common denominator . Which might be a worthwhile goal for a blog post, but with a distribution large enough is going to be ridiculously low. Perhaps we should invest in education. Prize intellectual honesty, curiosity and asking questions. Instead of the ninja/unicorn/guru figure. Instead of trying to explain quantum mechanics to people that need to be reminded that “objects in mirror are closer than they appear”.

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                        Thanks, this post made me realise I had forgotten to filter philosophy.

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                          Alright, let’s do it for “micro services”: go!

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                            I’m eager to do it for such buzzwords as “email” and “RAM” and “keyboard” which would be more in line with the author’s intent with this post.