How you use the 1st person says something about who you are.
One thing I noticed when I started working in software was the odd ways people use the first person. A support guy on the phone once said to me, “Go ahead and uninstall us, then run the installer again.” (Support people are required to start every sentence with “Go ahead and.”) He meant, of course, “Uninstall my software,” but working with his software had so influenced his outlook that it had been able to dragoon his first person for its own purposes.
On a project I was writing for in the late 90s, there were several teams, each of them developing code that would do some work on the data and pass it off to the code created by some other team. The team leads quickly got into the habit of saying things like “I parse it and pass it to Gerry, and then she crunches it and gives it to Terry.” Gerry wasn’t crunching anything herself, but she had identified so thoroughly with the code her team was writing that it felt like she was.
It’s not just software, of course. When I moved to California I met a lot of people who spent a lot of time in cars. Where I would have said “I parked the car down the block,” a Californian would say “I’m down the block.” The person was not down the block, the car was, but everybody seemed to understand. I’ve been in California so long, I talk the same way now.
Until recently I was writing a lot about a complex and rather precarious installer. In frustration, I caught myself putting questions to the developers like this: “Are we seriously telling the user to run that script manually, twice?” As soon as I noticed that I tried to get back to phrasing it like, “Are you seriously telling me I have to…?” Putting myself rhetorically in the position of the user helped me stay focused on the point of the writing, but even more than that, it helped keep these developers focused on making sense, rather than just getting through the processing.
Categorised as: Geekery