Technology English IS Plain English

The English definitions of words do not change simply because they are said in the context of something related to Technology.

Plain English GuaranteedRecently I was at a client demonstrating how to start the Quickbooks Accounting Program and open a company data file.  (This client had two separate company data files for Quickbooks for two completely separate businesses.)  I made the following statement: “Quickbooks will automatically open the last company file used or you can select ‘Change Company’ from the menu and manually select your other company data file.”

She replied, “I don’t understand anything about Technology.  Why do you IT People always make it so difficult to understand everything?”

Sadly, this is a response I have heard hundreds of times before.  I replied to her, “Exactly what was unclear about my statement?”  She replied, “I don’t know what you mean by ‘automatically open’ or ‘manually select.”  Trying to remain as polite as possible as my frustration level grew, I simply asked, “Why do you think the words ‘automatically open’ and ‘manually select’ have any different meaning here than they do anywhere else?”

English DefinitionI stated that the definition of “automatically” is operating in a manner essentially independent of external control or influence.  And the definition of “manual” is done by [one’s own] hand.

Expanding my original statement, “Quickbooks will open the last company data file used without any additional action on your part – as in automatically open, or if you want to work with your other company file, you must select the menu option to change company and choose it from the list, as in manually.”

I then went on to ask what she thought the English dictionary definition of “automatically open” and “manually select” meant in any context, not just a Technical one.  She really had no answer as she completely agreed that the definition and word usage were consistent with exactly what she thought they were.  As in, “The door will automatically open as you approach it.” And, she had to “Manually open the door by grabbing the handle and pulling on it.”

Rodin ThinkerAfter some thought, she realized that she had just completely tuned out of the training and conversation.  She was predisposed to tell herself that Tech Speak was NOT Plain English and that she could not possibly understand it so she did not even try to make sense of what was being said.

There are certainly some specific “Terms of Art” in Technology that might require a little more explanation or analogies to understand but the majority of the conversations that I observe, fall apart because the listener assumes that for some reason English words take on a completely different meaning when a Technology person says them or are in a Technology context.

The next time you have a conversation about Technology, remember that we are all speaking Plain English and that in most cases, the definition of the words, especially when presented in context will mean exactly what you think they mean.

George Washington and his White HorseIn short, this classic childhood riddle explains it perfectly:

“What color was George Washington’s White Horse?”

Answer:  George Washington’s White Horse was White.

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