Concerning the Word Dynamicity

Most who know me would consider me rather a purist when it comes to English usage. So why do I use the word dynamicity in what is likely an incorrect way (chiefly in chapter 5)?

Well, for what it's worth: I didn't do it lightly. I gave it considerable thought. If you disagree with me, please tell me so.

I wanted a word that conveyed the notion of "dynamicness" (or the quality or state of being dynamic). Someone suggested dynamism, the technically correct term. But this didn't "feel" right to me, in some way I could not define or specify. As a noun, it seemed to describe a more concrete entity rather than a state of being.

My mother, who taught English for years, was in general opposed to many of the modern neologisms. I remember she once proofread a paper for a friend in nursing school (or some such thing) and came across the word remediation. It jumped out at her right away, and it grated on her nerves. She had never heard it before; it wasn't in the dictionary; and she saw no need for it. "I can see what it means," she told me. "It means remedy."

But, of course, that's not really true. It means the act of applying a remedy. That's not quite the same thing. It has a different "feeling."

English words undergo subtle shifts in common usage as time goes by. I'd argue that in many cases, elevated diction keeps certain expressions after they have passed from common usage.

Take the word industry, for example. It conjures mental images of automobile manufacturers, conveyor belts, boards of directors, and stock options. But it is also simply a noun referring to work or labor in general; the adjective form is industrious. But if I were to say, "He is to be commended for his industry," many people wouldn't know what I meant. We have created the word industriousness to cover that sense now. We have taken an adjective derived from a noun and derived yet another noun from it. It's unnecessary, and I have mixed feelings about it.

So I can't really defend my use of the word "dynamicity." It seems right to me by analogy with words like "periodicity." I can't swear that this is in a dictionary, either; and it wouldn't surprise me if it weren't. But I vastly prefer it to "periodicality" or "periodism." I don't even know whether those are words. The former sounds to me like something H. G. Wells would use, and the latter sounds like a bit of postmodern historian's jargon.

When I first brought up this issue, I honestly thought that this usage was correct, and I commented that I'd wager this word would be in the OED (the Oxford English Dictionary). And someone (Dave Thomas?) responded that it was indeed in there; it was a term from chemistry, referring to what I learned years ago to call "valence."

So I did a web search; and do you know what I found? I found more than two hundred uses of this word... and all of them were used in the sense in which I was instinctively using it. The overwhelming majority were in the context of programming languages.

Then I searched for "dynamism." I found innumerably more references to this word; a few, though not many, were used where I would have said "dynamicity."

So I concluded that there has already been a shift in meaning here. When it comes to putting a name to this quality, more people are already saying "dynamicity" than "dynamism." Of course, I am in general opposed to mob rule when it comes to alterations in the English language; but I reserve the right to be inconsistent.

It's inevitable that each discipline will create its own specialized jargon and even add new shades of meaning to existing words. Computer science, far from being an exception, may be one of the worst culprits. Consider the meaning of words such as "core," "bit," and "pointer" (not to mention such UNIXisms as "cat" and "lint").

I can't leave this little topic without commenting on the sadly small number of computer professionals who have a good command of English grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It leads to the situation in which technical documents must be heavily proofread by English experts (who conversely don't usually have knowledge of the technical aspects of the material).

I recall spending some time with some of these people at IBM once. They had collected a list of amusing and odd pieces of jargon that they were always stumbling across. (The non-word "ROMable" is the only example I can think of, but some of the items on their list were truly comical.) Some of it they had to tediously translate into "real English."

One of them happened to mention that a certain document kept using the term "dereferencing a pointer." My heart skipped a beat, and I asked her what she had done with that phrase. As it turned out, this team of people had been systematically replacing that usage with the phrase "removing a reference to a pointer."

Trying not to gnash my teeth audibly, I explained to them that this might not be a word in the dictionary, but the replacement phrase did not mean the same thing at all. I fumbled for an explanation. "If anything, it means fulfilling a reference to a pointer." And more to the point (no pun intended), I asked them: "Would you change the word 'deploy' to the phrase 'removing a ploy'?" That, more than anything, got through to them. But I still have nightmares of programmers reading about removing pointer references.

So, getting back to the word "dynamicity": If you don't like it, don't use it. If you want to flame me, go ahead. Maybe you'll even change my mind. And that is all I have to say on the subject.