Wednesday, 27 April 2016

When People Thought There Was A Microsoft *Swear Word*

A Facebook post with a vulgar punchline had me chuckling and reminiscing about a linguistic faux pas years back.

In 2007, someone had published a paper on what I think was a hypothetical software tool for evaluating variables in object-oriented programming, possibly to shorten processing times.

For some reason, this fellow decided to call this software tool "Cib*i", short for "Class Invariants By *bstract Interpretation".

When the contents of this paper eventually reached Southeast Asia, the local techies and software people went wild. Because "cib*i" in the local vernacular means something else.

Naturally, few could resist the opportunity to throw a few off-colour puns. Some were puzzled - how could Microsoft, a huge multinational with a ton of resources, not be aware of this word and its significance? Wouldn't an Internet search have prevented a few red faces?

Probably not.

Anecdotes abound of word in one language meaning something else in another; long ago, it was said that the word "Malaya" raised a few eyebrows in Africa when our troops went over there for a mission - anybody else remember that?

Besides, who has the time to look for words online when immersed in lines of code and math formulae? Fiction writers probably have it worse - imagine the research to make sure their made-up words or names don't inadvertently offend people of different cultures.

One could argue that, as the world gets more interconnected, fewer excuses can be made for cib*i-like howlers that can have pandemic-like effects on business entities. At their speeds these days, bad news will find alien life in outer space before we do.

In the end, it's just not worth it. Invent your words, writers, and hope that more people will laugh rather than get angry. No offence meant, after all. And I believe people give Microsoft too much credit.

I'd already left the IT industry when news alleging Microsoft's "hottest product" of that year rippled across this region's social media sphere. The company later clarified that the author of the paper had not joined it when it was published, nor was anything of the sort being developed in its labs - at least, not with that name.

Although the word was scrubbed from Microsoft's web sites, the original paper in PDF format remains and can still be downloaded - perhaps to maintain archival integrity (this actually happened) and as a cautionary tale for others to #PlzDunCib*i.

So, if somebody asks you the meaning of a word and you know it's offensive, you don't cib*i and say it's a greeting or something congratulatory, okay?

(Yes, I wrote this as an excuse to swear. The past couple of weeks have been tough.)

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