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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Rob Rosenberger

What's another word for euphemism?

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Sunday, 2 April 2000 BOY, I HOPE your PC avoided all those deadly AF2K viruses yesterday... I committed a faux pas during a recent lecture. A "beltway bandit" invited me to speak near the nation's capitol, and I expected a cozy gathering of perhaps two dozen specialists-in-training. Bad assumption! I found myself at a company-wide employee seminar for Internet safety. Still, my presentation went over very well. My screw-up occurred when I detailed an email content monitoring software issue. In a nutshell, I used a vulgar phrase in a technical summary. Many non-technical security lectures use the profane for its shock value — but I used a specific swear phrase (eight bytes with a space in the fifth position) to describe an important technical issue.
I com­mitted a faux pas when I failed to adjust my ter­mi­nology for a general audience. I learned a valu­able lesson the hard way.
One person later asked why I didn't use "love you" instead. I will now, I blushingly replied. I go out of my way at times to avoid vulgar phrases on this website. Man, I offend enough people just with the sarcasm here! Swearing doesn't increase the value of my non-technical opinions — and even something like "omigod" offends a portion of the general readership. (I hope they recognize I used it this time in a technical light.) However, computer security experts, like medical examiners, sometimes must describe the profane in technical detail. The easily offended should never write email content filters for this very reason. It in fact irks me when experts dilute technical discussions with euphemisms. Doctors don't say "wee wee" at a proctology convention, you know. Yet a doctor certainly might say "wee wee" in a technical speech before AARP members. (It'd probably get a few chuckles, too.) I committed a faux pas when I failed to adjust my terminology for a general audience. Technical or not, I now believe it shocked more than it educated. I learned a valuable lesson the hard way and I apologized in person to the conference organizers. I hope they'll invite me back sometime, but I'll understand if they don't.