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"Nerdview": when insiders use insider language with outsiders
Martha Barnette
San Diego, CA
820 Posts
2009/06/29 - 7:14pm

Thanks, Ron, for making me realize why I've been feeling weird whenever I'm asked to "verify" those digits. I hadn't really thought about why that annoys me, but you nailed it.

2009/06/19 - 12:38am

I received a call from a credit card rep regarding suspicious charges. He wanted me to “verify … .” I pointed out that he called me, and I needed him to verify instead. Before he hung up he said he would ask management to review the procedures to improve them.

That is too funny, because I went through the exact same conversation with my credit card rep! Even funnier, the "suspicious charges" they called me about amounted to $200 during Christmas week! Who do they think I am, Scrooge? My rep was not as nice as yours, though. Neither he, nor his manager, seemed to understand why I might be concerned about their verification procedure. I actually told them that I might consider changing banks/cards because of their lack of understanding.

2009/06/18 - 5:51am

I have shared your experiences and frustration. In addition I have had a few positive experiences.

I received a call from a credit card rep regarding suspicious charges. He wanted me to “verify … .” I pointed out that he called me, and I needed him to verify instead. After all, he called the phone number on the account, so I would be very unlucky indeed if someone had made fraudulent charges AND a person had broken into my house just at the moment my bank called me. He laughed and agreed.

I asked instead if I could somehow reach him by calling the phone number printed on the back of my credit card. He explained how. We hung up. I called him via the published number. Then I still had to “verify.”

Before he hung up he said he would ask management to review the procedures to improve them.

2009/06/18 - 1:47am

Since you've broached the subject, I will tell you about my recent experience with trying to resest a password for my online bank account. In addition to the usual questions about Social Security number, mother's maiden name, city of birth, I was grilled with at least a half dozen more questions, and some of them were so tough I didn't even know the answers! For example, it asked me to say how much my mortgage payment was in 2008, and it just so happened that I had refinanced twice last year. My "correct" answer had to fall within a $100 range in the four multiple choice answers they offered, and all four were within $100 of each other. That's like asking someone what year was the song Dock Of The Bay in the Top Ten: 1966, 1967, 1968, or 1969? I got the mortgage question wrong, and others as well. In short, I couldn't reset my password for an account that actually belonged to me! I had to wait until the next day to talk to a person, and of course that person asked me a bunch of questions, too. I told her that the online questions were really unreasonably tough, and she fed me the company line that it's all done to protect my security. Well, someday I'm going to be so well protected that I can't get any money out of my bank account.

Ron Draney
721 Posts
2009/06/17 - 10:49pm

This topic gives me an opportunity to rant about a piece of linguistic debasement that's been on my mind for some time now.

Have you had occasion recently to call a company that issued you a credit card? Maybe there's a charge you wanted to dispute, or you want to find out why the payments you sent two weeks early never seem to get credited until the day after the due date. The circumstances can be legion, but what matters is that they require you to speak to an actual human being.

Early in the call, you'll be asked "can you verify the last four digits of your Social Security number?" (The piece of information can vary: mother's maiden name, zip code, personal security phrase. And I certainly understand the need for something that proves your identity.) The first time they asked me that, I said sure, tell me what you have and I'll verify whether it's right or not.

This, apparently, is not what the word "verify" (or "confirm") means to them. Somewhere around 1995, both these verbs came to mean "tell me", but nobody bothered to issue a statement about that to the general public. This would be forgivable except that the call-center drones expected us to know about this strange new definition for words we were familiar with since, oh, seventh grade or so.

By the way, I just encountered a new twist on this a couple of days ago. Calling an bank to update some information, I was asked which of three counties I now live in or have ever lived in. A second question (which of a group of professional credentials do I hold or have I ever held?) followed, perhaps triggered by my response that I had lived in two of the named counties; it may be that this bank didn't account for the possibility that someone might coincidentally have moved from a county they picked at random to serve as a "wrong" answer.

2009/06/17 - 4:11pm

This is interesting because of the unintentional nature of the awkwardness – or incomprehensibility. There are loads of examples where the effect is sought, but I won't confuse the issue by bringing examples up here.

I'm sure I've heard and read many examples of nerdview, but it is not always geeky, in the traditional sense of the word geek. (Not the chicken-head biting kind of traditional sense, but the technology person traditional sense.)

I've heard CEOs talk about layoffs, salary reductions, and the like, to the employees who were in shock about losing their income, using terms such as ROI and keeping fixed expenditure down.

2009/06/17 - 2:12pm

Many of the technical geeks who design software are, well, technical geeks, and there's no point in wishing they could relate to “normal” humans better. That's the job of other people on the design team. Sometimes this part of the design process doesn't get the attention it deserves, most often due to budget issues. Sometimes software improves if people send in suggestions.

Hey, I seem to recall that the “geeks” of yesteryear liked to keep things in Latin and Greek. We've come a long way, baby. The main (and most dangerous) perpetrators of nerdview is our government, which would rather that we don't really understand what's going on. Though I can't totally blame our government, because there's truth to the saying that too many of us can't handle the truth.

I received an annoying dose of nerdview last week when I heard the new chairman of GM gloating about his company's future. He essentially said that bankruptcy was the best thing that could ever happen to the company. I understand what he is saying, but he did not express any concern whatsoever for the devastation which results from such a large scale bankruptcy.

Grant Barrett
San Diego, California
1532 Posts
2009/06/17 - 11:55am

Of garbage, seagulls, civic pride, and nerdview. «Nerdview is the (sometimes absurdly inappropriate) use of an insider's perspective and language in a context where messages are being addressed to a wider public. The symptoms are both perspectival (signs of seeing things as the factory or office or authorities would instead of from the standpoint of the public) and linguistic (using in-house jargon that the public might not even understand). » Earlier explanation of "nerdview."

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