oops! I do not think that means what you think it means

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

THE HEADLINE caught my at­ten­tion, as it was sup­posed to: “Ad­vanced OOP For Word­Press.” As should be ob­vious to most people fa­miliar with news­paper, mag­a­zines, and now on­line ar­ti­cles, the head­line is usu­ally the first thing that most readers see in any ar­ticle. Con­se­quently, it is usu­ally the first thing they read. To at­tract readers, head­lines should use words that grab at­ten­tion and arouse interest.

How-to ar­ti­cles stress things like the flag­ging tech­nique—in­cor­po­rating the word you into a head­line to speak di­rectly to the reader—and using emo­tional ad­jec­tives. But these ar­ti­cles often fail to ad­dress things that should not be done in headlines:

  Head­lines should not use words that con­fuse readers.
  Head­lines should not use words with vague meanings.
  Head­lines should not use words with mul­tiple meanings.

So, the full head­line that caught my at­ten­tion that I men­tioned in the first para­graph above was “Ad­vanced OOP For Word­Press Part 5: Using The Word­Press Test Suite For In­te­gra­tion Testing” on the Torque web­site. It caught my at­ten­tion be­cause I rec­og­nized the promi­nent ini­tialism OOP, but didn’t un­der­stand how it could be ad­vanced or what it had to do with Word­Press. 1

Oops! Cartoon about jargon 0by Tom Fishburne.

Car­toon by Tom Fish­burne, the Mar­ke­toonist.

About the publishing field

Like anyone re­motely as­so­ci­ated with books, I know that those three let­ters stand for Out Of Print. I’ve known that for al­most as long as I’ve known about books, which is more than fifty years. The term is also used to refer to many items no longer avail­able, such as records, CDs, and DVDs.

As I glanced at the head­line, I won­dered, “What could ad­vanced out-of-print pos­sibly mean, and what could it have to do with books?

A little bit of reading of the ar­ticle told me that OOP has a dif­ferent meaning in the world of Word­Press de­vel­opers, where OOP means object-oriented pro­gram­ming! 2


Oops! Dog 'n' Cat cartoon about jargon.

I found this great Dog’n’Cat cartoon but had to look up “SJW” and found it on Urban Dic­tio­nary: “A pe­jo­ra­tive term for an in­di­vidual who re­peat­edly and ve­he­mently en­gages in ar­gu­ments on so­cial jus­tice on the In­ternet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the pur­pose of raising their own per­sonal reputation.”

Jargonistically speaking

Vir­tu­ally every field of spe­cial­ized en­deavor de­velops or evolves its own spe­cial­ized lan­guage, gen­er­ally called nomen­cla­ture. For ex­ample, at­tor­neys fa­mously speak and write in a tongue that is al­most in­de­ci­pher­able by non-lawyers, jok­ingly called legalese.

An­other term these spe­cial­ized lan­guages is jargon, which is the tech­nical ter­mi­nology or char­ac­ter­istic idiom of a spe­cial ac­tivity or group.

I as­sume that its is safe to as­sume that every reg­ular vis­itor to the Torque web­site knew what OOP meant in that head­line. But is it also safe to as­sume that many of them did not know that OOP has an older, more common meaning—especially to non-techie, ca­sual readers?


For as long as I can re­member, OOP has meant out-of-print; now it also means object-oriented programming.


Be­cause there are mul­tiple mean­ings for OOP, it’s prob­ably not a good choice for a head­line, if you are in­ter­ested in at­tracting those ca­sual readers. 3

And that’s the problem with coining ini­tialisms that are al­ready in use in an­other field: it con­fuses ca­sual readers.

It could easily annoy ca­sual readers, dri­ving away po­ten­tial sub­scribers and customers.

Hell, it might even cause one them to ad­dress the issue in a rant on his own blog . . .

Head­lines should avoid words with tene­brous or het­eroge­nous mean­ings that con­fuse readers, just like tweets. Click To Tweet

Oops! humorous painting of sharks eyeing a deep-water diver eyeing a crab

FEATURED IMAGE: I found this mar­velous painting ac­com­pa­nying an ar­ticle about jargon ti­tled, “The Everyday Linux User Jargon Buster.” Turns out they found it on a com­puter wall­paper site! The Linux ar­ticle opens with this sen­tence about jargon: “I re­ceived a com­ment at the bottom of one of my ar­ti­cles which ex­pressed be­muse­ment about all of the acronyms and terms used within my re­views.” A guide to ex­plain as much of the jargon as pos­sible followed.



1   An ini­tialism is “an ab­bre­vi­a­tion formed from the first, or ini­tial, let­ters” of three or more words in the name of a group or­ga­ni­za­tion. It should not be con­fused with acronym, which is “a word (such as NATO, radar, or laser) formed from the ini­tial letter or let­ters of each of the suc­ces­sive parts or major parts of a com­pound term.” An acronym is a very spe­cial kind of initialism.

So all acronyms are ini­tialisms, but all ini­tialisms aren’t acronyms. Or at least that’s the way it’s sup­posed to be, but so many folks who never look things up use the two in­ter­change­ably that they are be­coming syn­ony­mous, an­other in­stance of ig­no­rance trumping ed­u­ca­tion and awareness.

As dic­tio­naries are de­scrip­tive (telling us how people use a word) in­stead of pre­scrip­tive (telling us how people should use a word), modern lex­i­cog­ra­phers at modern dic­tio­naries give us both the old (read “cor­rect”) and new (read “in­cor­rect”) de­f­i­n­i­tion, ex­ac­er­bating a bad situation.

The only good to come out of this has been to pro­vide a large niche market for en­gaging books about grammar and Eng­lish usage, in­cluding. The Deluxe Tran­si­tive Vam­pireWoe Is I, and Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

2   Ac­cording to Wikipedia, object-oriented pro­gram­ming is a “pro­gram­ming par­a­digm based on the con­cept of ob­jects, which may con­tain data, in the form of fields, often known as at­trib­utes; and code, in the form of pro­ce­dures, often known as methods.” 

Aside from being poorly con­structed, that sen­tence is con­fusing: the words ob­jects, fields, and methods all have mean­ings in the normal world quite dif­ferent from what the techies have as­signed to them. Which is one of the rea­sons why it’s often dif­fi­cult for normies to com­mu­ni­cate with ex­perts on sup­port lines, as we don’t know the meaning of the words in their work-world, and they don’t know the meaning of the words out­side of their work.

3   OOP used as out-of-print is also ap­plies to records, CDs, movies, and re­lated in­tel­lec­tual properties.


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