04.01.2013 - 23:18 - Filed in: Software Testing
‘This is a nice one.’ A very simple sentence consisting of five words. Yet completely unintelligible. What is ‘this’? What class of things does ‘one’ refer to?
It is indexicality, one needs to take into account. A word or an expression can be considered indexical, when its meaning is tightly connected to the circumstances or the context of its use. As an example, the word 'this' is only fully understandable if it is either accompanied by a hand or head gesture pointing to what it refers to or if in the preceding sentence indicates a reference.
- This is a nice one (Together with a pointing finger to a beautiful rose)
- This is a nice one (Preceded by the sentence: ‘We just found some gold nuggets’ )
Mitigation of ambiguity in direct human to human interaction is quite seamless and its procedure is mostly not even noticed. A facial expression, an utterance of 'huh?' or a short interruption with a clarifying question helps to create meaning. Meaning of words and sentences are mediated by their interactive use between humans.
As a tester it makes a lot of sense to be physically close to a developer who can fix a bug. Even non-linguistical indexical behavior, like a pointing finger, works just fine. I point to something on the screen and the developer is ready to fire up the debugger.
In written language this is a bit more tricky. And bug reports are often written in a bug tracking tool. It is just not the optimal choice for clarity. However, in a bug report, some of the ambiguous effects of indexicality can be mitigated by a clarifying screen shot. It provides the necessary context for understanding. Therefore:
- This leads to a 404 page not found (followed by a screenshot with a button circled in red)
Alright, boys and girls, be aware of possible indexicality the next time you write a bug report.
BTW: ‘Nice’ has always been one of these words that irritate the hell out of me. Noncommital, superficial and mostly just semantically muddy. Some time ago, the meaning of ‘nice’ was ‘stupid’, coming from its latin roots ‘nescius’ (=ignorant). My good friend George Carlin - in his context - could not have expressed it better.