Big Bleeping Brother

By Angela Gillaspie Copyright © 2000

The other day I sent an e-mail to a fellow programmer that gave her my status of a project that we were working on together. We had been working on this one particular program for over a week and we weren’t getting any closer to finding the bug. I was a mite frustrated.

In my e-mail, I told her basically that I wasn’t finding bleep toward fixing the bug. I also added a couple of colorful expletives describing what test I was going to try next and I quickly clicked the ‘Send’ button.

Note: There’s no excuse for my bad choice of adjectives and nouns that I placed into that note and I’m not proud of the fact that I allowed myself to behave unprofessionally.

After a couple of days, my coworker called me. She said that she had just received my e-mail from our boss. "Did I send it to him by mistake?" I asked.

"No, apparently there were some profanities in your e-mail and recently they’ve started scanning all incoming e-mail for this kind of stuff," she said while stifling a giggle.

I then called my brother-in-law, the Network Administrator and all-around Hardware Guru, and asked him what was going on. He told me that the Director of Information Technology (IT) was concerned with the content of some e-mails that were being sent. Offensive information (jokes, URLs, chain letters, etc.) was slipping through the firewall, and he needed to take some action. So, he got one of the network dudes, Ryan, to create a dirty-word-database (DWD) that my brother-in-law could use to scan incoming e-mails.

When an offending e-mail is found, it is automatically sent to Ryan and he then forwards it to the Director of IT and the Senior Project Manager. They decide what action to take next. In my case, they chuckled, but asked my coworker to tell me that ‘Big Brother’ is watching and reading.

OK, besides being horribly embarrassed, I was also amused.

Imagine with me, Ryan sitting in his office gazing up at a cobweb in the corner of his office deeply thinking of words to place in the DWD. He probably covered the big ones first, the eff-word, the ess-word (slang for fecal matter; the one I used about four or five times in my tainted e-mail), the bee-word (a female dog), and the dee-word (the verb form of ill-fated, ruined, hopeless, you get the idea). What about words that weren’t really cuss words, but merely just offending words, like fart, jerk, or dork? Or the whimsical term for an unintelligent person that literally means ‘Richard Cranium’? What about anatomical terms?


This new policy has me rethinking my way of communicating with other programmers. We don’t think highly of salesmen (they don't understand us, and we don't understand them), accountants (we're both nerds and think we know more than the other), and especially any user that has to ask where the ‘any’ key is on the keyboard. We can’t spell very well, and the few words we can spell are usually of the four-letter variety -- I guess that's why a programmer had to come up with the DWD.

Most programmers are locked away in the basement with our computers, Hewlett Packard reverse Polish calculators, and flow chart templates. Therefore, professionalism has never been an issue with us before.

The emergence of connectivity and the Internet has unchained the doors to our offices and we have been allowed to mingle with the beautiful people of the office. Management should know that there were going to be some ‘incidents’. Perhaps this is why my two bosses didn’t threaten my job status (yet) when they saw the ess-word in my e-mail.

Now we programmers are forced to come up with alternative adjectives and nouns to describe the quandary that we are debugging and researching. For example, if the error is a user error (90% of the time), we'll declare that there's an eye-dee-ten-tee on the system (ID10T), or we'll remark, "Yup, sounds like a PEBCAK to me." (Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard)

Old habits die hard, and I'm ashamed to say that breaking the bad-word habit has been hard for me. Management has been tempted to send the programmers to 'Refinement Training' to educate us how to behave with people who don't exactly know the difference between a byte and a nibble. And no, these aren't culinary terms.

Jim, the Director of IT still speaks the ancient programming tongues of COBOL, PL/1, and even assembler, so he put things in terms we programmers could understand:




Yes Jim, your message is crystal clear.

Myself, I will use the 'What-Would-Momma-Think' rule of thumb when sending inter-office correspondence. My Momma frowns on calling people names and the noun form of flatulence, and she gets terribly offended when any of the biggies (ess-word, et al) come within her range of hearing.

Besides, my kids are learning to read and I've already seen "Josh is a gubur" scroll by on my screen saver banner. (Could my eight-year-old be a future programmer?)

Using the 'What-Would-Momma-Think' rule of thumb would be very effective in curbing the use of offensive language because most of us fear our mothers more than Big Bleeping Brother!

Stay tuned for more SouthernAngel Bad Words!

Copyright © 2000, Angela Gillaspie
Revised - 03/13/00