3 Banana Monkey

Always, Never, Awesome, Prove ...

March 21, 2015

Maybe it’s a cultural bias or a sign of the times, but I have noticed that many native English speakers tend to use stronger words than necessary to describe a situation.

For example, always and never are used so regularly that their meaning has become diluted. Always and never are rarely used correctly. Many people tend to use always when they mean “most of the time” and never when they mean “some of the time”. The main issue I have with this trend is that it leads to black and white thinking and black and white thinking can lead to a destructive behavior of catastrophizing situations. The other issue I have is that if enough people continue to use these words incorrectly then incorrect suddenly becomes correct. This is unfortunate.

Yeah, I’m not going to touch the word awesome.

I hold the word prove in high regard. In my mind, when you use the word prove you are making the strong statement indicating that a set of steps exist to verify all possible values for the given situation. That is a much stronger statement than someone demonstrating something works for a limited set of values. These are two drastically different concepts. In my career as a software developer I see this used incorrectly in the context of unit tests. In general, unit tests prove nothing but demonstrate correct behavior for known inputs.

Finally, we have intuitive. Merriam-Webster provides the following definition: having the ability to know or understand things without any proof or evidence. I have trouble accepting the idea of knowing something without any proof or evidence. In any case, I think most people mean familiar or understandable when they use the word intuitive. You can see this word most abused by user interface designers.

Take some time and work toward understanding the words you regularly use.