King"s English: mangled, spindled and mutilated

Von Computerworld Hong

English is the world?s business language, and has supplanted une autre langue as the language of diplomacy. True, 30 million people worldwide are learning Putonghua (and that?s a good thing, because monolingualism insulates), but when mainland businesspeople talk to French diplomats, it?s likely they?re both speaking English. The language can be spoken poorly yet still convey essential meaning ("Me no can do, vous comprenez?).

But our new cyberindustries and communication devices place additional stress on what is, after all, despite its pronunciation anomalies and arcane idioms, a magnificent language. And as writers and editors, we urge those responsible for IT nomenclature to understand and respect basic rules of English usage.

Pedantic? We think not. English-mangling spiked during the dotcom boom, when myriad overcaffeinated grad students thought they would become jillionaires ("let?s just IPO and become filthy stinking rich!"). Traditionally, proper nouns (names of companies, people, etc) start with a capital letter, i.e. Cheung Kong Holdings. If proper nouns start off a sentence, no problem--they are initial-capped (first letter capitalized) in any case.

Then some jokers started sticking lower-case vowels (invariably "i" or "e") onto firm-names. So now, how to start off a sentence reporting on, let?s say, "eKittyLitter"? Do you leave it as is, or do you change it to "EKittyLitter"?

Worse still, some jokers started treating punctuation marks like darts, hurling them into their (legal, registered) company names. The clearest offender is Yahoo! (sic), whose name transcends centuries of proper punctuation practice by having a mystic exclamation point glued onto its butt-end. The firm?s a clear dotcom winner, but how would Yahoo!?s people have us write Yahoo!? And what about their subsidiaries? Shall we write Yahoo! Hong! Kong!?

This brings us to Mambo, a full-featured open-source content management system (CMS). It should be noted that dotcom winners often use names designed for uniqueness rather than description:, for example, has nothing to do with female warriors, yet the firm?s revenue hit US$1.75 billion in Q2 2005, up 26 percent year-on-year, according to the IDG News Service.

So, naming a CMS "Mambo" is OK. Besides, Mambo is an interesting product. It?s a powerful, free, CMS. The main user over 100,000 users.

Here?s what?s not OK: a faction of the development team forked off to produce their own version of Mambo, and decided to name their product "Joomla!". What?s the point of this two-syllable nonsense word? Are they trying to make a three-year-old laugh? The dreaded exclamation point welded onto its backside is what exactly: a pronunciation guide to help adults coax maximum giggles from said tyke?

Firm names this absurd make reportage simple--we?ll simply won?t report on them. The excellent website (use it, we do) lists nothing for "Joomla," with or without useless exclamation point. Perhaps it means "kickass electric-writing system" in Ancient Persian. We don?t care. If they want reportage then first let them hit the heights of Yahoo (Q2 revenue: US$1.25 billion), which we write as it ought to be, sans exclamation point.

What goes around...

One hot and sultry Hong Kong day in the bunker we call the Questex office, one of our editors received an email highlighting an editorial vacancy for a regional magazine. A professional acquaintance had forwarded the email, which indicated that a leading publisher in the region was seeking top talent to fill an editor/writer position.

Piqued by curiosity rather than genuine interest (of course), our editor read further to find out who was hiring for what. Following the email trail revealed that said email had passed through at least four media and analysts? in-boxes. Trawling further down, our inquisitive editor discovered the word "Questex" in the subject line of one of the emails. The word was pretty unmistakable and, in this case, more than a tad intriguing for the Questex editor.

Upon reaching the original message (the root of this curious cyberodyssey), the by-now-fascinated editor discovered that the source of the outgoing call for edit talent was in fact a fellow Questex colleague. Not only that, but the position on offer was one the said editor had been struggling to fill for months!

Editor smacked his forehead and let loose a Homer Simpson-style "Doh!" as he realized the source of intrigue lay within his own firm. He does however thank his considerate acquaintances for thinking of him.