that old GNU/Linux argument

Gordon Messmer yinyang at
Mon Jul 21 06:28:12 UTC 2008

Patrick O'Callaghan wrote:
> Having said that, my *usage* of the term "Linux" encompasses any
> accumulation of software that has a useful purpose and is constructed
> around a Linux kernel. This includes GNU+Linux, X+Linux,
> Fedora/Debian/Ubuntu/Slackware/etc. and the system that runs my wife's
> RAZR-2 cellphone.
>         'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful
>         tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor
>         less.' 
>         'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean
>         so many different things.'
>         'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master -
>         that's all.'
>         	Through The Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

That's a beautiful example of the literal truth of that chapter.

Humpty Dumpty spoke complete nonsense, from which no one could possibly 
understand his meaning, because he decided that words meant what he 
wanted them to mean.  Thus it is for people who say "Linux" when they 
mean an operating system that is Unix-like (which is GNU) or a 
distribution composed of Free Software (which may be Fedora or something 

Language doesn't work that way.  If you speak, and your listener doesn't 
understand you, then *you* are the one at fault.  There's no point in 
speaking to others except for them to understand your meaning.  That is 
why it is essential for us all to use words whose meanings are 
consistent and specific.  Therefore, it is detrimental to refer to the 
Linux kernel as "Linux", and the GNU+Linux operating sytem as "Linux", 
and distributions of Free Software which run the GNU operating system as 
"Linux".  How will anyone understand what you mean?

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