What's in a Name...or Symbol?
Saturday, June 22, 2002
This article has an interesting discussion on the "@" symbol. OK, I guess I
should confess that I was an English major in college. So, when I use the
phrase "interesting discussion" in reference to lexicon, that may very
well translate to "put too much thought into something so meaningless." :)
Nevertheless, the vague and often contradictory interpretations of such a
simple -- and now very common -- symbol serve to highlight the dichotomy
between the written and the spoken language, the lay person and the
professional, and even between the customer and the ever enigmatic technical support.
What often becomes painfully clear during an hour-long-marathon, tech support
session is that not every one is speaking English. Well, we may all be using
the English "framework," but that doesn't mean the customer I'm talking to
intuitively understands that when I say the word "dot", I mean a period,
not the word "dot" spelled out. Better yet, ask someone to type the domain
name (whatever the heck a "domain name" is) c4.net, and you're just as
likely to get "c4dotnet", "seafour.net", "seefor.net," or any combination
And nothing -- I mean nothing -- drives people more crazy than when I
rattle out a staccato "dub dub dub dot" ("www.") like some kind of submerged, automatic
machine gun. Some people are just plain confused; others think I've attained
a new level of laziness, a sort of narcoleptic nirvana. In my defense,
when you find yourself over pronouncing the letter "w" (duhble-yuuuuu) a few
hundred times a day, you'll start looking for ways to arbitrarily eliminate
syllables everywhere possible.
I'm joking of course -- well, mostly. :) From a practical standpoint, it
can be time and resource consuming for us and confusing and frustrating for
the customer. Luckily, we learn and grow with experience, and there are
some basic rules which we can follow. For instance, any usability expert
will tell you that, when in unfamiliar territory, people tend to take the
most literal interpretation of things. So, the word "dot" becomes the
letters "d", "o" and "t" spelled out. This alone explains much of the
misunderstanding. Experience eventually explains the rest.
So, whose fault is it? No one's, of course. Sure, the support person or
technician often makes assumptions that they shouldn't. They get careless
with the language when they should pay closer attention to it. On the other
end of the phone, customers can get frustrated when they should be patient.
Or, worse, they get insulted, believing the tech support person is talking
down to them. When this happens to me, I spend the next 10 minutes
backpedaling and apologizing -- for what is really just a misunderstanding
-- rather than actually trying to solve the problem.
Of course, nothing is born from a void (no pun intended), and sometimes
customer support people do talk down to customers. Most of the time,
however, there are less nefarious reasons for our misunderstandings, not the
least of which is that, with
million words in the English language, two people can have a conversation
and not understand a single word the other person is saying.
Sometimes this can make an ordinary conversation fun. Other times, it can
make troubleshooting a problem, well, problematic.. So, I guess, as
in most things in life, it is what we make of it. "You say tomato. I say...."