Thursday, February 07, 2008

peeve no. 256 is overuse of the word 'powerful'

Like the other word overuse peeves ("random" and "satire"), I have no issue with the word "powerful" when it's used as I think it should. For instance, when something is full of power, "powerful" is a fine description. In other cases, when the definition and/or quantification of the relevant "power" is debatable, a better word choice would be more interesting and more accurate.
  • An experience provoked strong emotions, so therefore it was powerful, Mr. Critic? Fascinating. How many watts was it?...Oh, the experience had emotional or "psychic" power. How much emotional work did this power achieve? Enough to form one semi-vivid, long-term memory?...Would it do the same to any person? If not, does that imply each person has a different degree of emotional inertia? Hmm? Stop walking away from me...
  • This software is powerful, Mr. Marketer? Fascinating. Where is the power lever? If I turn up the juice, will it use up more electricity? Does it have a "turbo boost" button I can press to make it run faster?...Yes, I know about nice and renice, but wouldn't those affect powerless software the same?...Oh, I see, the number of features is what makes it powerful. If I don't plan to ever use those features, will the software still be powerful for me? Eh?...Of course, how silly of me, what makes the software powerful is its set of sophisticated commands. When those coarse-grained commands make too many assumptions about what I expect, are those commands still powerful? Don't get angry, I just want to know what you mean...
  • This programming language is powerful, Mr. Advocate? Fascinating. Does that mean it can do more than existing general-purpose languages?...No? Does that mean it has all the same features as language X, and more?...What? Cramming every feature and possibility into a language would be awful? Well then, does the powerfulness of the programming language mean that it runs fast?...I suppose you're right to say that's an implementation detail, and in any case the algorithm design can be far more important than the language for execution performance. What about the design?...You're saying succinctness is power. I recall reading about that once...
  • Politician X is powerful, Mr. Pundit? Fascinating. He must be a fairly good athlete, then?... Ah, I see, you mean he's well-connected. So it isn't him that's powerful, but a network of people doing favors for each other?...Right, in a democracy his power would have come from the citizens who elected him. He's powerful because at election time he was popular enough?...Huh, he's powerful now, because he's good at persuasion. His powerfulness is really power redirected from everyone around him?...Naturally, he would also have official government powers according to his post. His powers allow him to command government employees. But if they consent because of his position in government, isn't the position the part that is powerful? Stop interrupting my questions...
Feel how powerful my vague adjectives can be! The force of my forceful forced words can have a strong influence on the weak-minded!

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