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November 01, 2019  |  Friday words #195  |  207 hit(s)

I don’t feel like technical terms are necessarily fair game for Friday words, but I ran across one this week that seemed like it might (?) be useful in other contexts. To set the stage, I’ll quote a blog post about it:

In the engineering world, we have a habit of creating a lot of things, yet have a very difficult time retiring things, whether those things are projects, hardware, automated test cases, etc. I guess to some degree engineers can be hoarders. […] But this becomes costly and inefficient. So what do you do to clean up the artifacts left running just because everyone is afraid to turn them off or delete them?

The solution—well, a solution—is to use a method called the scream test. To implement a scream test, you take things away and wait to see if someone screams, heh. “Hey, where did that file go?!” might be a result you get in response to a scream test.

I liked a few things about the term scream test. One is that it’s not easy to tell from the expression what it means. Scream is not the object of the test—you’re not testing for loudness, pitch, whatever; compare blood test. It’s not the means by which the test is performed—no one is screaming in order to perform the test; compare stress test. Instead, in a scream test, scream tells you what you’re testing for; compare leak test. (I suppose it doesn’t hurt that it rhymes with screen test, though it would be hard to make a case that that was why they chose that name.)

I also was thinking about how scream test applies in everyday life. We just moved to a smaller apartment, and we’re putting many things into a separate storage unit that we’re renting. We’re performing a kind of scream test: put stuff out of reach and then see after some period—month? year?—whether we ever missed it, i.e. whether we “scream” about not having it. If we don’t, it probably means we can “permanently delete” the artifact.

Anyway, there are probably other examples of where scream test applies outside of the context where the idea was born. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Origins. I was reading Don’t Believe a Word, a new book about language by David Shariatmadari. Just in passing, he mentioned the origin of the word parliament. This is a legislative body, of course. Why would it be called that?

Well, one thing that members of a parliament do a lot is talk. And therein lies the origin: the parlia- part of the word refers to talking or discourse. A parliament is a group of people who parley. One might say that they often engage in palaver. In Spanish, the same root evolved into palabra, the word for “word.” Another, more distant relative is parable.

A seemingly odd instance of the word parliament is as a name for a grouping of owls; compare a murder of crows. A parliament of owls is one of those madey-uppy terms of venery; it’s not a native English term that you’ll find in most dictionaries, the way you find words like herd or flock. Even so, I wondered why someone would have decided that an assemblage of owls should be a parliament. Because owls, like, talk so much? The best explanation I can find is that owls are associated with wisdom (Athena, all that), and that a group of them is … wise? … in the way that a deliberative body is? As if, haha.

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