Jun 15 2010

Phrases that need to be expunged

Powerful tool

When powerful tool describes a piece of software, as in

The Browser is a powerful tool for organizing all your program elements in a multi-level structure by allowing you to separate your material into unlimited bins for multiple sessions using the column header’s shortcut menu for a smoother workflow.

it only means that it is fucking complicated, and you’re going to have to read a manual and complete a bunch of time-wasting tutorials before you can figure out how to do the one dumb thing you need it to do. It is not, therefore, a powerful tool at all, but the dude who wrote the code sure as hell is.


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  1. awhirlinlondon

    And said manual will likely be written by someone whose native language is English but who has no command of it nonetheless.

    Makes one loose the will to live.

  2. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    You will only have need of this software under the direst of circumstances, when you are in a hurry, or when your patience has been completely exhausted.

  3. hero

    Standing Ovation.

    (Without the egg-pelting that is the origin of the word.)

  4. lawbitch

    It’s nerd revenge.

  5. yttik

    Ha! Whatever happened to phrases like “user friendly?” I’m certainly not interested in reading a manual, learning a whole new language, and sitting through tutorials. By the time I’m really good at it, the darn thing is obsolete anyway.

    On the bright side, I can now easily function with four different browsers on an antique computer while utilizing file conversion tools and duct tape efficiently. I can also dial a rotary telephone, which is a skill that really impresses children who have no idea how to operate anything that doesn’t have buttons.

  6. Pinko Punko

    Also, workflow. Jesus H. Humperdinck on a triscuit. It is almost as if the copywriter is trying to invoke a magical wonderland of smooth computer usage and glitch free transitions between tasks. Yes, my experience with Adobe products does not match any sort of idea of flow. Of work.

  7. bellacoker

    The concept of calling something a “powerful tool” falls into the same trap as having to advertise things, if it were really a powerful tool you wouldn’t have to tell people because the items amazing power would have been demonstrated and then spread word-of-mouthily until everyone wanted it. I mean, it’s a good bet no one went around trying to get people to buy swords or sledge hammers or whatever by convincing them that those things were powerful, the item was seen in action and then everyone fucking wanted one.

  8. Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D.

    “By the time I’m really good at it, the darn thing is obsolete anyway.”

    Oh, yes. Describes my digital-photo-processing software–and my relationship with it–perfectly.

    Powerful tool indeed. It’s a little like having a Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules in the driveway for the occasional trip to the grocery store.

  9. nails

    There is a position at my job called “Workflow Coordinator”. It is like, mega pretentious.

  10. Ashley

    “fucking complicated, and you’re going to have to read a manual and complete a bunch of time-wasting tutorials before you can figure out how to do the one dumb thing you need it to do.”

    I’ve dated a lot of tools who thought they were powerful, but they were really fucking complicated and I had to curl my hair all the time and do a bunch of time wasting shit before I figured out the one obvious thing I had to do…stop dating dudes.

    In that sense, it kind of fits.

  11. Azundris

    yttik, I’m afraid the canonical form is, “UNIX *is* user-friendly — it’s just really selective about who its friends are.”

  12. Citizen Jane

    Twisty! You did not just assume that a programmer is a man by default, did you? Do you have some inside info on the development team of Final Cut Pro which brought to your attention that the person who programmed the browser was male?

  13. Amos

    Surely Jill was associating maleness with powerful-toolery, not programmerhood.

    Alas, programmers that fail to produce a self-explanatory application rarely succeed in explaining it to the manual writer either. Hence the contentless run-on sentence.

  14. Someone

    I found this interesting also, especially bouncing off the last post on occupations. See, I had already been considering the field of tech writing, before Mr. Walker brought it up. And roughly 50% of tech writers are women. Or in any case are rather well represented compared to many other not-necessarily-pink-collar professions.

    Now, we hope, that composer of the help files and instructions has a good enough command of the English language that awhirlinlondon doesn’t **LOSE** her will to live, but mainly…it would seem that most posters here would have absolutely no interest in what that writer has slaved over – similarly to how, y’know, tools won’t ask for directions?


  15. Schnee

    Woah, that was freaky. As I read the title of the post, someone on TV said, ‘it’s a tool, a powerful tool.’ Was my TV channelling your blog?

  16. Ron Sullivan

    The only truly powerful tool is the Sawzall™. If I had a Sawzall™ I could Conquer The World™.

    OK, also a sledgehammer of the right handle-length and head-weight.

    And Felco #8s.

  17. Earnest O'Nest

    It probably was designed to do one dumb thing: give us all a terrible headache thinking it has to, at least, allow us to do one dumb thing

  18. Citizen Jane

    “Surely Jill was associating maleness with powerful-toolery, not programmerhood.”

    I didn’t see any associating maleness. The phrase “but the dude who wrote the code” is flat out referring to the programmer as a male, assuming a programmer must be male by default. I get this constantly at work and every time I go on an online community for programming. Everyone assumes that I, and anyone else who can write a for loop must be male. It appears that this phenomenon is so insidious it even appears on a radical feminist blog.

    The patriarchy can consider itself blamed.

  19. speedbudget

    Citizen Jane, whenever I run across a poorly designed user interface, I do immediately assume it was a male who wrote or designed that particular bit of idiocy. I do that because generally dudes are more interested in showing off how deeply cool they are than worrying about whether or not their product actually WORKS. That’s our problem.

  20. Awhirlinlondon

    Yes, & awhirlinlondon should have cut the unnecessary “nonetheless” while she was at it. Ashley: hilarious!

  21. allhellsloose

    Powerful tool fails to excite lobe into accepting that ‘complicated’ means intellectual. Powerful tool has been doing this for centuries. My lobe is now wired to seek out such phrases and consign them to the trash. Have just realised I typed powerfool tool – yep that about sums it up.

    Like it Ashley!

  22. Sarah

    Are you sure you didn’t get this from a press release from my workplace? Daily we are forced to use words like “powerful,” “workflow,” “seamless” and “solution.” No matter how much I tell them this jargon is meaningless fluff.

  23. Hector B.

    @someone: The tech writers I have known (both women) complained that they had an incredibly short time to write the product manuals — the developers kept revising the software till the last possible moment, at which point they wanted to release the product immediately, so why were the writers taking so long? Imagine two weeks of 18 hour days, fueled with coffee and Red Bull, to get the documentation out in a burst. It’s going to be first draft quality, at best.

  24. Jill

    After 5 years of writing this radical feminist blog, believe me, I am aware that all programmers are not dudes. However, as a matter of general style, whenever I write something with negative implications or connotations that also involves an allusion to one sex or the other, I default to male. When the connotations or implications are positive, I default to female. See my rhetorical cunning?

    To reiterate: This does not mean that I believe that all programmers are male, or all programmers are bad. Jeez, whaddya take me for.

  25. norbizness

    I am currently impacting all of my technological options.

  26. Vera

    In real life I am a technical writer, and I can attest that when a manual refers to a product as a “powerful tool” or congratulates you on your purchase, you are reading the part that was put in by marketing over the tech writer’s better judgement. Why such writing would occur in a third party manual, I don’t know.

  27. Pinko Punko

    I don’t like the optics of that comment, NRBZ

  28. FurryCatHerder

    Or better than “User Friendly”, how about “Intuitive”. The most powerful tools I own — Husqvarna 350 chainsaw — is =extremely= intuitive. Pull the trigger, cut down the tree.

    Many modern programs, programming languages, cable guides, and other such “powerful” products are impotent tools compared to the pure ease of cutting down trees with a well-built chainsaw …

  29. Siren

    “However, as a matter of general style, whenever I write something with negative implications or connotations that also involves an allusion to one sex or the other, I default to male. When the connotations or implications are positive, I default to female. See my rhetorical cunning?”

    When you say “default,” do you mean default like it happens without thinking? Or more like you make a choice to use one or the other as the default/generic? I don’t ask this in a challenging way: I’m curious.

    Having been raised with this sort of cunning linguistic reclamation (and in radical isolation from the dudely mainstream), I’ve always defaulted to female automatically, no matter the connotations. It’s just always been the norm for me.

    So I’m your legacy, in a way. I mean, the language you and other radical feminists created as adults—that was my first language, the native tongue of my childhood.

    Since I still live fairly radically removed from all things boy, most of the time I don’t even realize how weird it is to default to female. I don’t question it. I’m only just beginning to examine it and understand how different it is. So I have some of the right words, probably some of the right views, but they were gifts. I didn’t have to work for this worldview. I didn’t have to fight for any epiphanies.

    Does it still count?

    P.S. Apologies if this is too off-topic. I’ve just been dying to ask some real self-identified radical feminists about this very thing, and this seems like the kind of place that might actually take the question seriously.

    Also, I confess I haven’t read all five years’ worth of this blog. So if you’ve already discussed this elsewhere, I’d be grateful if someone would point me that way.

  30. Jill

    “Does it still count?

    Hell yeah, it counts. It’s the whole purpose of the whole thing, that a girl should grow up without having to claw her way out of the “I’m inferior” hole before getting to live her life.

    I don’t know about the other old bat feminists, but I still have to think about pronouns. It’s a conscious effort. When someone says “doctor” I still sort of vaguely picture a dude. It pisses me off, too. But the brainwashing and indoctrination and cult programming, it is thorough.

  31. Hedgepig

    One of the many excellent reasons I have for not reproducing is that I would not be able to prevent any offspring from indoctrination by societal influences, which are of course primarily patriarchal. Then there’s my own not-sufficently un-learned programming as described by Jill above, which may well emerge involuntarily and infect child rearing practices.
    I read a very convincing study once that concluded that societal influences tend to trump natal group influences. That’s why children brought up in a minority religious sect, for example, don’t always choose to continue to endorse its worldview into adulthood: the power of hegemonic culture is very great. Sadly, I fear that because the hegemonic culture is patriarchal, even if I were to brainwash my youngens in the truths of my chosen doctrine they may simply disregard what their old mum told ’em. Hell, I did.
    So it is with delight that I read Siren’s declaration that the language of radical feminism is her mother tongue! Tell me, what was the configuration of your birth family? Did you have two mothers? Did you escape being sucked into the patriarchal belief vortex through home-schooling? Or did you just recognise sufficiently early on that it was pile of shit? Excuse the barrage of questions?

  32. Siren


    Definitely, I grew up without having to claw my way out of the “I’m inferior” hole. At the moment the question seems to be whether I should consider revising my worldview to let the dudes out of theirs. However I have warmed to the idea that self-identified non-lesbians might not be so bad, which is something of a paradigm shift. I mean the part about how there are people who actually self-identify as non-lesbians.


    Yes, lesbian born and bred. I had two mothers—a birth-mother and an other-mother—up until I was ten, and then again from age thirteen until now. Not the same people: both my original parents died by the time I was ten. But beginning again at age thirteen it was the same basic ideology and same basic configuration, only this time with more sanity, less multigenerational inbreeding, and fewer dead people.

    And yep, homeschool all the way, although never in a any traditional way, if there’s such a thing as a traditional way to homeschool.

    Alas, I can’t take credit for recognizing any of the boyshit on my own. I mean, I think I was as indoctrinated as any little kid; I just was lucky to get the kind of indoctrination that might, if I can figure out how to navigate it all, act to balance out the pull of the patriarchal belief vortex a little.

    And no, questions don’t bother me, especially not the kind you’re asking. It’s the ones that make any reference to popular culture that totally jam me up.

    Finally, I’m delighted to have offered a little ray of delight. Seriously. My friend Sharon, who at 62 may have even the old-battiest of you out-old-battified, says one of the things feminists of her generation fear is that their work didn’t matter, that things aren’t actually better, or aren’t better enough. That it was all for nothing. So I’m glad to learn it makes some small difference for me to say it mattered, and continues to matter, to me. I could sit here all day listing out the ways I cherish this part of my heritage.


    Subtext is awesome, but there’s no subtext to my username. It’s just my real-life first name. It’s not meant to evoke any Greek mythology or to be some weird clue to where I’m coming from. My birth-mother’s name was Serena, and “Siren” is a variation of that. Plus, she likened my crying to the sound of a siren.

    Usually I don’t bother explaining this, but on a feminist blog it seems appropriate to clarify I’m not trying to suggest some devouring-seductress thing. I do make use/fun of the mythological associations sometimes, but yeah, it’s just my name.

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