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Day 81: on origins

Posted on 4 mins read

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about words in the Software Craft community, more specifically, wether it makes sense to keep using the word Craftsman to identify ourselves as followers of a movement. I believe the word Craftsman isn’t a good choice. It’s actively a bad one, for many reasons. But today, I will focus on just one: etymology.

Origins

etymology: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

I love language. And inside the vast field that is the study of languages, I’m consistently attracted to etymology. So, naturally, I went and looked for the etymology of Craftsman. If we look for it, we find out that it’s made out of 3 parts:

  • craft ➡ Physical strength, might, courage, science, skill, art, […] hex, trick, fraud, deceit […] — Quite interesting to see a number of negative connotations arising from the use of the word craft that we all seem to like so much, huh?
  • -s- ➡ Genitival interfix used to link elements in some compounds, equivalent to the possessive clitic -’s. – Basically, the same as saying craft’sman, only the english language ditched the in the middle somewhere in time.
  • man ➡ There’s a couple of definitions, but they all begin with Someone (implied male). I don’t think there’s much to say here.

From the etymological perspective, a Craftsman is someone (implied male) that possesses physical strength, might, courage, science, skill, art, hex, trick, fraud, deceit, etc. The actual definition differs a bit, and goes a bit like: A male artisan. This time it’s not even implied that that person is male, it’s explicit. And if that wasn’t bad enough, let’s do the same for our beloved Craftsmanship.

Its formed by 2 words:

  • Craftsman ➡ Already defined above.
  • -ship ➡ Appended to a noun to form a new noun denoting a property or state of being, time spent in a role, or a specialised union. — Basically, the act of being a Craftsman.

From a purely etymological perspective, Craftsmanship is the act of being someone (implied male) that possesses physical strength, might, courage, science, skill, art, hex, trick, fraud, deceit, etc. And the actual definition looks like either:

  • The quality of being a craftsman.
  • An example of a craftsman’s work.

The point I’m trying to make here is that you can’t simply stop calling yourself and peers Craftsmen in favour of other, more inclusive words like Crafter or Craftsperson and still call the movement Craftsmanship. They are intrinsically intertwined because one is referenced in the definition of the other. It cannot be any other way.

Smithing

At the same time the discussion was raging on, I saw this tweet:

Codesmith sounds amazing, right?

Right you are.

For me, it was a direct reference to another word which I love:

Wordsmith: One who uses words skillfully — See, no (implied male) here. Progress!

Wordsmith is a term often used to refer to poets and storytellers. And if we dig a bit deeper into where its meaning comes from, we find it’s made of 3 parts as well.

  • Word ➡ Not going to define this one, but there’s a link there 🎉
  • Smith ➡ A craftsperson who works metal into desired forms […] – Again, no (implied male). To be fair, instead of craftsperson it could say craftsman and that wouldn’t have been as cool, but it didn’t, so, hooray!

So, a Wordsmith is a craftsperson who works words into desired forms, thus creating story, poem or song. A Codesmith on the other hand, would be a craftsperson who works code into desired forms, thus creating Software. It’s almost poetic. And smith can also be a verb just like craft, albeit not really widely used.

So, instead of sentences like:

She’s very experienced. I’ve seen her craft some amazing software. She truly is a remarkable Crafter.

We could go:

She’s very experienced. I’ve seen her smith some amazing software. She truly is a remarkable Codesmith.

Beautiful. But since nothing is perfect, smiths were historically mostly male. 😢

Reality

I know Codesmith will probably never catch on. Don’t get me wrong, I would love it if 10 years for now the metaphor was raging with hype and we had the greatest thinkers of this generation writing masterpieces like:

  • The Software Codesmith: Professionalism, Pragmatism and Empathy
  • Software Smithing
  • Extreme Codesmithing

Or not. You know, we may not need metaphors to guide our communities. We need people to lead them and embody the values we want to live by. At some point, the chosen metaphor stops being so important. But if we’re keen on using a metaphor, then at least let it be one that doesn’t (imply maleness) all over it.

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