Continuing my rant from earlier this week, let’s look at decimate. It was originally used to describe a punishment inflicted on cowardly or mutinous Roman legions. Every tenth soldier would be killed, as chosen by lot.
Hence the root deci- for “tenth”. Think of a decimeter (or decimetre for all you Brits and Canucks) which is one tenth of a meter (or metre for all you Brits and Canucks).
So decimate means “reduce by a tenth”. Yet somehow, decimate has come to mean “reduce to a tenth”. Or as used by the news media, “any number big enough to grab your attention that we can’t actually define”.
In fact, check out the Webster definition for decimate. It starts out with the correct definition then devolves to the wrong one.
So by this logic, a decimeter can also mean nine tenths of a meter. (Or metre for all you Brits and Canucks… yes, this is getting tedious.)
Here’s a fun one: awful. It can mean really bad, or really good. I’m serious. The original definition was “full of awe” — this makes sense. But now it means the opposite, which makes no sense.
Instead of fixing the problem, our English ancestors invented a new word to fill the gap: awesome. So far awesome has kept its original meaning, but its overuse in modern vernacular is awful.
How about PIN? It stands for Personal Identification Number. So why do people say “PIN number”? (You see that, right? They are saying “number number”.)
Same thing with LUN. Time to go all techie on you, so non-IT people can change the channel. Or maybe not, you can probably follow this and still find it amusing.
In the IT world, we use a lot of virtual disk drives. They are commonly called Logical Units, since they are real drives grouped logically to form a virtual drive. The main advantage is if one of the real drives crashes and burns, other drives can take over and you don’t lose any data.
Well, we need some easy way to identify this virtual drive, so we give it a number, because computers like numbers. We call it a Logical Unit Number, or LUN. Thus a LUN is a number that identifies a Logical Unit.
Well, everyone in the IT world (except me) refers to the drive itself as a “LUN”. It’s like calling your house an “address”. The address is how people find your house, it’s not the house itself.
In fact, when my colleagues want to know the number that identifies the virtual drive, they ask “what is the LUN number?” Yep, it’s “PIN number” all over again.
Sigh. You and I are the only sane ones here. And I’m not so sure about you.