flexibeast.space - gemlog - 2024-01-19

Saying something is ‘bugged’ is a serious accusation

In recent years i've noticed a trend for people, including some native speakers of English, to say that a piece of software is ‘bugged’ - by which they mean, “has a bug, or bugs”.

i struggle with this, because for most of my life, ‘bugged’ has referred to something being under surveillance via surveillance equipment - for example, “The room was bugged by the intelligence service”. So what i (and many other people) would instead say is something like “This piece of software is buggy” (or perhaps just “This is software”, because the amount of software that doesn't contain bugs is vanishingly small[a], which i say as a dev myself).

This might be less of a Big Deal if it weren't for the fact that a significant part of the world is living under either surveillance capitalism, or a surveillance state, or both. Even setting aside social media platforms like Meta's, which have surveillance-for-advertising-purposes as their primary business model, software in general is increasingly moving towards ‘phoning home’ to provide ‘telemetry’ about how people are using it, and in what contexts - purely “to help improve the software”, of course, with no chance of such data ever getting used outside of that. (Since acquisitions and mergers and data leaks / exfiltrations never happen.) VSCode is one example; VSCodium is the version without telemetry/tracking[b]. And in 2021, there was the stoush around the possibility of telemetry being added to the Audacity audio editing software, after the project was acquired by Muse Group[c].

Given this, i'm trying to discourage people from using the word ‘bugged’ to mean “has a bug, or bugs”. In specific contexts, it might be clear what's meant, but given the general trajectory of software towards being increasingly user-hostile[d] (including compilers![e]), it can also create unnecessary ambiguity. Since there's an existing word, ‘buggy’, that conveys what's meant without the ambiguity, why not use it?

🏷 ict,language


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[a] Famously, legendary computer scientist Don Knuth once wrote in a memo:

Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it.

-- “Knuth: Frequently Asked Questions”

Wikipedia: ‘Donald Knuth’

[b] “VSCodium”

[c] Wikipedia: ‘Audacity (audio editor)’ / ‘Reception’

[d] “The Rise of User-Hostile Software” (2021)

[e] “C and C++ Prioritize Performance over Correctness” (2023)