that old GNU/Linux argument

Patrick O'Callaghan pocallaghan at
Mon Jul 21 16:41:51 UTC 2008

On Sun, 2008-07-20 at 23:28 -0700, Gordon Messmer wrote:
> 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.

Actually the real intent of Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) is not clear. He was
a logician, and it's more than likely he was simply having some fun with
the idea of statements having truth values independantly of their
variable names, which is why mathematicians and computer scintists like
him so much. There are many many examples of logical puzzles in his
other writings which illustrate this point. Anyway ...

> 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 
> else).
> 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?

Because they are human beings and misunderstandings will be cleared up
through conversation?

Truth be told, normally I'm on the other side of this kind of argument.
I prefer exactness wherever possible. I've simply learned to save my
energies for things that matter, and that I might eventually change.

This ship has sailed, the horse has bolted, and the milk is spilt.


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