Friday, June 16, 2006


M’learned colleague Ebb of Weevil has posted a fine list of terms deemed unsavoury by the Speaker of the House of Commons. For example, it is considered unparliamentary and unbefitting of good gentlefolk to speak of “clowns” and “piddling”.

Once, long ago, I took pieces of silver full-time from Sutekh known as Seth. My job – as well as making chains for when I hung alongside the late Jacob Marley – was to load crap on a website each week and then report on how it sold. (Answer most often: “badly”.)

Every now and then the system cocked up, spitting out something we’d loaded. No error message, no morsel of clue, it just didn’t put the thing out there on the interweb.

As this only ever happened when we described computer stuff, I was (like a second-rate Miss Marple) able to discern a pattern. There were some words you couldn’t use in the descriptions field.

(By “field” I mean a box for writing inside, usually a white box on a grey computer screen. And not a large, agrarian space in which foodstuffs grow organically, a home to owls and butterflies. The Register has written more on the balls of hexadecimal coinage.)

Through a process of elimination we worked out what some of the naughty words were: HTML; OEM; .com; that kind of lickspittle technicalia. Nothing to bring the whole house down.

The helpful IT team explained how you could get round this by substituting individual letters for code – an ampersand, the right number, and then a semi-colon. Sometimes the system was foxed by this intellectual chicanery, and sometimes it still sprang an error.

Since this was getting us more nowhere than we usually managed on our own, I batted an email to the company what made our loading system. I listed the disreputable words we’d worked out for ourselves, and asked what there was we could do.

Also, lambishly innocent, I enquired what other terms we ought to steer clear of…

They sent me a list. 1,000s of terms and phrases on it, and none of them to do with computers.

Permutations of f-words and c-words you’d not even dreamt of. Euphemisms far more piquant and vivid than merely “blinking like a gormless alien”. Terms drawn from medical dictionaries centuries out of print. And delights like “winkie-wee-wee” and “poo-hole”.

Dutifully and respectfully, I sent this round the office so everyone would know what we must never do. The IT team soon digested the banned vocab.

And some slippery customers swiftly offered some 100 terms the no-no file had missed.

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