[conspire] What's wrong with "FLOSS" (was: Penguin Day - Demysitify FLOSS for Nonprofits)

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Sun Apr 17 16:39:24 PDT 2005

Christian was replying to Bill Ward:

> I only use the term FLOSS on lists like this, where the readers will 
> understand it.  
> I try to use the freedom part of open source as much as possible, 
> for a couple of reasons.  

Christian, the problem is that you _aren't_ doing that, when you say
"FLOSS".  You're not talking about freedom at all; you're just using an
opaque and rather silly-sounding acronym.  You _think_ you're talking
about freedom because of an abstract and essentially symbolic
association with the concept.  Which, IMVAO, tends to shoot your
intention in the foot.

You said, in a separate message, "When we talk to [new users] whose
primary language is English, let's call it open source."  I concur ;->  
-- except that I tend to include references to free software as soon
as they're "getting" the concept.

[Stallman story snipped]

> So ever thereafter, I began to increase my use of the "F" part of 
> "FOSS" or "FLOSS" as appropriate.

See, I see the point of talking about freedom.  But I don't see the
point of "FLOSS".  (Among other things, it doesn't talk about freedom.)

> If it becomes apparent to me that folks on this list really REALLY get
> bummed on hearing FLOSS, then I will probably end up typing OSS.  

(Just to stress:  My opinion doesn't and shouldn't carry any particular
weight around here, just because I'm the list's spam-janitor.  If I ever
need to speak as listadmin, I'll try to remember to make my wielding of
that "hat" explicit.  In all other contexts, I'm just another
featherless biped with prejudices.)

Maybe it's just me, but "OSS" conjures up images of William "Wild Bill"
Donovan's wartime operatives in the Office of Strategic Services
(predecessor to the CIA).  Also, it's yet more infernal acronym-ese.  
Also, when spoken, it's three syllables versus two for "open source".
On the other hand, it's shorter to type.  On the gripping hand, it's 
almost as opaque as "FLOSS".

(Afterthought:  Why _would_ "OSS" placate FSF types, anyway?  Are they
supposed to be happy that you didn't say "open source" and ignore what
the acronym stands for?  I confess I don't get it.)

> As a side note, I've gotta tell ya that people in Latin America LOVE 
> Richard Stallman.  Almost no one down there calls it "open source."  

As noted, luckily they don't have the linguistic free vs. free problem
we gringos suffer.  If _visiting_, I'd no doubt call it "software libre",

But, at home, short of us all switching to a Romance tongue, we have to
deal with Anglo-Saxon imprecision.  ;->

> He later sneezed again, and once again, I habitually said, "Bless you,
> oops, I forgot, sorry" and he said, okay, you don't need to say
> anything when someone sneezed.  So the next time he sneezed, I just
> sat there and watched him wipe his hand on his pant leg after catching
> his sneeze.  

Heh.  One could do as the Israelis do, and say "La breyut" = "to your
health" -- which of course is close cognate to English's old borrowing
from German, "Gesundheit."  (I believe the Yiddish variant is "sei
gesunt", "be healthy".)

But that brings me to a point I wanted to make:  Sure, it's good to
acknowledge that choice of words is very important -- but, beyond a
certain point, one must master the words rather than letting them (or,
worse, someone else's fixations about them) master _you_.  And please
allow me to use religious and other ancient constructs in English to
make my point:

Like other English-speakers, I use the word "goodbye" (from "God be with
ye") routinely, not to mention expressions like "Bless you" -- and yet
I'm showing little sign of religious piety.   I use forms of address
like "Mister" (cognate of "master") and "Sir", without feeling any
special inclination towards feudal monarchism.

If you look closely, you'll probably find that English vocabulary and
phrasing is riddled with fossils of old concepts and symbols, many of
them foreign to modern sensibilities.  And yet, we are not under their
control, and people reuse and adapt to suit the needs of their times.

Anyhow, if Richard objected to my saying "Bless you" on grounds that
"nobody needed to bless him", I'd say it was just a polite expression of
concern and that the notion of a big guy on a cloud hadn't really
crossed my mind.  If he replied that he thought I should purge
religious-tinged phrases from my vocabulary, I'd rejoin, as politely as
I could manage,  1. That's a rude request, and none of your business,
and 2. Good luck with a language-reform project that's ultimately
hopeless, for reasons cited above.

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