Always is always

February 12th, 2013

Do any of you have twitch words?  Words that set you off?  If someone says that particular word, you go into attach mode.  I do.  For me, that word is “always”.

Case in point, if you are writing a user story use the word “always”, I’ll make sure you have a bad time.  I wont yell or scream, but I have made people cry.  The word “always” is a logical error, making any statement in which it is used impossible. Typically, “always” is used because it is assumed that whatever the task is, it is simple.  A trivial thing.  Therefore “always” is thrown in to make sure you are paying attention.

The problem is that “always” means there can be no exception. It is the rule. Nothing can break it, it will not bend, it will not buckle. “Always” means forever and unending. Always is permanent. “Always” saves you from yourself. Always is always. Always is forever.

Think about this: You are talking to a car designer and say: “The car should always start”. Which is a nice simple statement. But if you remove the battery, the car can’t start. If you break the starter belt, the car can’t start. If you don’t have your key, it can’t start. If there is no gas, the car can’t start. If the engine is flooded, the car can’t start. There is no reliable way to ensure that a car always starts.

Now, if you try to tell me that isn’t what always means, you are wrong. End of the line. That is non-negotiable. Always is always. There is not another definition allowed.  Always is forever.

The next argument you will hear is that “Computers do that, you give them a task and they repeat it without error, you just have to code it right”.  Well, my exception handling blocks speak otherwise.   Designers know this, “this should always be above the fold”, then there should be nothing else on the screen — and even then it is a maybe.  Developer know this: “this process must always work”,  when you are talking to a database on another server…ya, right.  We think computers are the greatest thing, but they are still limited by their weakest part, and as long as there is a weakest part “always” cannot be ensured.  That means it failed, absolutely failed.

That is the fundamental problem with “always”. 99.999% up time does not satisfy “always”.  “Always” means 100% and only 100% up time. No exceptions.  There is no way to fulfill always.  There is no way to pay for “always” or Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft would have done it long ago. But there is no possibility of success with “always”, only failure.  “Always” never succeeds.

That aside, I will let the word always exists for theological reasons, so you can use the word always when talking about God.  Many religions view God as unmeasurable and infinite, existing before time, always and forever.  Always is appropriate here.

Now, if you say “never”, that is sometimes doable. Go figure.

</rant>

  • uglybugger

    This! A thousand times this!

    The other one that makes me want to slap people with a wet fish is “guarantee”.

    “Can you guarantee…?”
    “No. You’re an idiot.”

    I guarantee that anyone in this industry who speaks in absolutes is an idiot. Always ;)

  • Ferret Chere

    “Now, if you say “never”, that is sometimes doable”

    ‘Never’ is just ‘Always Not’. If ‘Never’ is “sometimes doable”, it means ‘Always’ must be too… so at best, your rant applies ‘Not Always’. :)

  • Ivo Wever

    ‘Always’ does not mean what you think it means. It would be a useless word if it actually meant ‘under any circumstance, without any exception’. In fact, the requirement ‘if I turn the key, the car should always start’ means ‘if I turn the key, the car should always start, assuming all other requirements have also been satisfied’. The word ‘always’ does not denote an absolute, as us binary minded geeks would like. It is a relative term, that is *always* to be interpreted in the context.

    An example from another line of work: contracts contain the word ‘always’, but judges will seldomnly interpret it as the absolute term you present it as.