Unnatural Nomenclature

Meghan Palagyi

It’s not surprising that the web design and development communities struggle with nomenclature. We are creating new ways of working, new systems, and new things, all of which need names. We rely on what we know, borrowing and altering what we can with varied success. If retrofitting refers to the addition of new technology/features to older systems, we are "futurofitting" - applying an old system’s vocabulary to new technology. Often a name is a good enough fit and we settle because a new, more accurate word would seem forced. Other times, we apply the same word to multiple things because it fits well in all instances. Names stick and so, when we have the chance, we should thoughtfully consider the labels we choose. Eponyms are sometimes useful, but aren’t always fitting. Two-word labels sometimes do the trick, but are often neither succinct nor elegant. Identifying proper naming, terminology, and taxonomy is not a new endeavor, but finding the right word is becoming increasingly difficult.

In using files, folders, libraries, directories, and indexes, the computing sphere borrows heavily from the library science field. To an even greater extent, the internet adopts traditional typography terminology from the printing and publishing industries (i.e., pages, bookmarks, typefaces, fonts, leading, letter-spacing, headings, layouts, grids, templates, block quotes, paragraphs, footnotes, boiler plates, borders, gutters, bullets, margins, headers, pagination, alignment and even colophons). While these names all accurately describe the same concepts, items, and actions in both mediums, other names can develop additional and updated meanings in the computing sphere.
The problem is even more prevalent where things are either previously unnamed or have changed in ways that make their name no longer descriptive, as often occurs with technology. This happens in the Drupal community often, and has for some time. Recent examples include the VDC team's 'thingies' and an issue surrounding the overlapping use of the words 'layout' and 'template' for both populated and unpopulated content. There are inherent obstacles both to writing documentation for poorly named concepts and to semantically naming content types, display suite layouts, and features. It is maddening for everyone involved when a name becomes a constant thorn, but finding a successful name early can be impossible without forethought.
Thankfully, there are continuing efforts and discussions to improve terminology and naming in Drupal 8. The prospect of clarity and the conscientious use of terms with consistent naming and application is certainly a worthwhile undertaking. As our naming system evolves and matures, taking time to reassess terminology and the use of certain terms in an effort to improve overall usability is imperative. Usability studies and research is driving the reevaluation of concept names, methods, and elements. And spending time now to consider the overall scope of how something will be used and how its name will perform in multiple contexts can create solid and reusable nomenclature patterns moving forward.

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