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[off topic] setup

On Sat, Jun 16, 2001 at 12:42:04PM -0400, Duane Morin wrote:
> > The word "setup" does exist in the English language, but it is a NOUN,
> > meaning, "the way in which something is arranged," or "a hoax or
> > fraud."  Many people lately have been using it as a verb, meaning, "to
> > assemble or erect, establish, configure, or to cause."  In this form,
> > it is a two-word phrase, "set up."
> You're bringing this up the same week we learn that "doh" is now
> officially recognized as a word by the OED.  Language changes.  That
> is the way it has always been, and will always be.  

I'm well aware of the evolutionary processes that all natural
languages undergo, having put forth that very same argument in
relation to the use of the term "hacker" in common speech.  I really
didn't want to get into this in too much detail on this list, since
this discussion really doesn't belong here.

To that end, I will do something that I think is a somewhat novel
idea; I'll set up a mail alias on my own mail server,
language at, to continue this discussion.  I will further
ask that if you want to banter about this subject or any of the other
issues I raise here after this message, that you NOT reply to this
list, but that you forward your remarks to that address instead.  If
anyone has an interest in participating, send me e-mail, and I'll add
you to the alias.  If this discussion ends up being somewhat long
winded (which I doubt), I'll set up a genuine mailing list, and
possibly even archive it.  I don't know how effective this will be in
keeping this traffic off the list, but I'm willing to give it a try.

But since I raised the issue here, and your response was here, I'll
offer my rebuttal here as well.  Any future mail in this thread on
these mailing lists will be ignored by me.  I encourage you to use the
afforementioned e-mail address instead.


I will assert that there are at least three common reasons why
language changes:

  1. A new idea is introduced into the language, or a slang term for
     an existing idea comes into common usage.  

  2. A word is taken from jargon into common usage, often with a
     slightly different meaning than it had in its jargon context.

  3. A word in long-standing common usage becomes commonly and
     consistently misused or misspelled, and the corruption of the
     proper word is inserted into common language.

There may be a few others I haven't considered.  "Doh (generally
spelled d'oh whenever I've seen it in print) I think falls into the
first category.  I have not seen the OED entry, but I suspect it will
say that the term is slang (or similar).  If it doesn't, it probably
really ought to.  My "hacker" example is a case of the second, and
while I like the media's usage of the term as little as most people on
this list do, we must acknowledge that our preferred definition is
jargon, and generally unknown to people in common speech.

I'd like to think, however, that in a so-called "enlightened" society,
where we have come to understand the process of the evolution of
language, that we consider the third case unacceptable, and work as a
society to stamp it out.  I'd like to think that wrong is just plain
wrong; that 1 + 1 does not equal 3 no matter how many people come to
think it does.  We should not corrupt our language just because a
large percentage of people who speak it can't be bothered to learn to
speak it well...  It reminds me of the Kurt Vonnegut story, "Harrison
Bergeron," where everyone in society is artificially crippled down to
the level of the least capable person in society, so that no one has
an unfair advantage.  Even if you haven't read it, surely you can see
how absurd this idea is.  If not, I encourage you to read the story.

> Soon, "setup" will be "officially recognized" as a verb, for
> whatever that is worth.

I hope you are wrong.  Consider this my little campaign to prevent
that from happening, if you like. [Look ma, I'm an activist...]  I
have seen people write articles on such topics as "The dumbing down of
society," and this is the sort of thing they're complaining about.  It
makes me want to stand in the street and scream "what's so bloody
WRONG with wanting to NOT be wrong?"

> > I blame Microsoft for this, given that the install program for all
> > Microsoft apps is called setup.exe, which does the action described by
> > the phrase "set up."  This probably explains or at least contributes
> I think that's an unfair stretch, especially given that MS filenames never 
> traditionally supported spaces!  Unix supports spaces in filenames, and yet
> I don't see people asking why files aren't called "Read Me" instead of 

I certainly don't think it's an unfair strech; my observation has been
that as Windows has become more pervasive, more and more people misuse
the term, in common speech, in written communications, and even in
professional publications.  Maybe it's unrelated, but I don't think it

I was not suggesting that the name of the program should include
a space, and I will not suggest that.  I might suggest that Microsoft
should have stuck to the formerly popular INSTALL.EXE, which was both
grammatically correct, and more or less an a priori standard before
the rapid spread of Windows; but I will not even do that.  I'm sure
they conciously chose "setup.exe" to differentiate Windows apps from
DOS apps, and/or possibly for other reasons.

I will, however, suggest, and as politely as possible ask, that people
be more mindful of missused language.  

Our predecessors have built perhaps the greatest society that has ever
existed.  They did so upon high ideals, one of which was that everyone
should have equal access to education, and more importantly that
everyone should make use of that access.  (How "everyone" was defined
has evolved over time, thankfully.)  By having an educated population,
we have acheived things which are truly AMAZING.  They built a nation
that they were proud of, and that they hoped we would be proud of too.

These days, however, our foriegn neighbors ridicule us because when
they visit our country, they generally find that they speak our
language better than we do.  This is one of several things that does
not encourage me to be proud of the fact that I'm from the United
States.  And, despite some of our successes in these areas, we rank
below several second- and third-world countries in mathematics and
science overall. 

Now, I think that we are still PROBABLY the greatest nation in the
world, and I openly admit that I can't think of a place I'd rather
live; but between our disregard for encouraging quality education and
our disregard for engendering ideals and morals amongst young people
(as can be seen in reports of violence in schools and elsewhere), I
wonder how long that will last, and I'm saddened...  I wonder how long
it will take our increasingly poorly educated population to lower us
to third-world status; I wonder how long it will take before each
successive generation, even more hell-bent on bringing in the almighty
dollar -- regardless of the cost to others -- than the preceeding
generation, will drive our over-priced, over-inflated economy into the

I do not wish to seem to be making a mountain out of a mole hill;
obviously if you choose to use "setup" instead of "set up" you will
not cause the fall of our civilization.  However I will point out (as
has oft been) that the Rome did not fall in a day.  This sort of thing
is a gradual process, and every little bit hurts.  Lack of regard for
"proper" speech is but an indication of a mindset in our society.  The
mindset seems to be that "doing things the right way is only important
if it benefits me in some way."  I find this notion extremely
disconcerting, especially when I find myself falling under its spell.

Historians will note that we are following some similar patterns to
Roman society, like extreme excesses amongst the rich, for example;
and a far-too-high value on personal entertainment, as can be seen in
the salaries of sports figures and the prices of tickets to sporting
events.  Could I be way off here?  Certainly.  But before you dismiss
my rant out-of-hand, remember that that's what the Romans did...  The
question, I think, is not "will it happen?"  The question is, do YOU
care if it does?

What I'm hoping, in writing all this seeming nonsense, is that you
WILL care, and that even in some small way, I will have encouraged you
to do something to help prevent it.  Even if it's as simple as
convincing one person to use "set up" instead of "setup," then I've
made a difference.

Derek Martin          |   Unix/Linux geek
ddm at    |   GnuPG Key ID: 0x81CFE75D
Retrieve my public key at

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