[Beowulf] "Code" vs. "Codes"

Martin Wheeler mwheeler at startext.co.uk
Tue Apr 1 14:15:35 PDT 2008

On Tue, 1 Apr 2008, Andrew M.A. Cater wrote:

> 	Where's a tame linguistics professor when you need him - paging
> Martin Wheeler, paging Martin Wheeler :)

This "tame linguistics professor" is currently fixing the recalcitrant
codes of a local website, when in fact he would rather be sat in an
armchair reading a good book. Or painting.

(And btw, there's a *lot* more to linguistics than historical etymology,
as well you should know.)

But funnily enough, it was on this very list that I first noticed the use
of both 'code' and 'codes' as almost a synonym for what I would usually term
'software' or 'program(s)' myself. As I'm no specialist in the field, I
noted the usage, but said nothing, and asked no questions. (Descriptive;
not prescriptive.) I also made a mental note that it was probably an
Americanism. (Always a good device to cover up one's own ignorance.)

But I'm willing to bet it has nothing at all to do with native-speakers or
non-native-speakers. For starters, it's one of those lexical items that
you find only in use among specialist users of the language; and
specialists are almost always extremely precise in their usage.  (Too
precise. If two similar terms exist to describe the same thing, they'll
start differentiating between them. Cf. the usage of 'I learned' vs 'I
learnt' amongst pedantic professors of English. Non-native-speakers [in
general] don't care.)
Then there's the fact that there are all sorts of native-speakers. I'm
sure that the local yokels of N. Carolina (US) would be completely
non-plussed by the speech of local yokels of Somerset (UK) -- heck, as a
northerner myself, I still get baffled at times. Yet we're all
native-speakers. Linguistically, we share a common core -- nevertheless,
we all have our own particular usages in certain areas.

The danger is always that one is tempted to take one's own idiolect for
the national norm, and be completely taken by surprise when encountering
any sort of neologism.

(And I'd be greatly surprised if it were any sort of attempt to resolve
the 'program/programme' dichotomy -- that only occurs in written English,

Martin Wheeler - G5FM   +44 1458 83-1103 - Glastonbury - BA6 9PH - England
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