I Believe . . . This Makes NO Sense

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Nov 12 22:24:35 UTC 2008

On Wed, Nov 12, 2008 at 5:04 PM, Doug_Harris <cats22 at stny.rr.com> wrote:
> -agnostic -- as in product-agnostic, database-agnostic, vendor-agnostic.
> domain-agnostic, and so on.
> There seem to be, all of a sudden, an unbelievable, or un-provable, number
> of variations on that sense-defying coinage.
> Do you suppose 'they' mean, say, product-neutral, as in something that
> applies to all products (within a range), or vendor-neutral, as in something
> that would be applicable to or good for all vendors?
> I first encountered it in a training course for where the context was that
> the company aims to "ensure all call-back script is product-agnostic to
> avoid any future [confusion]".
> Never mind the future: I was confused today!

As it happens (shameless plug alert), Nancy Friedman's latest column for the
Visual Thesaurus is all about the appropriation of religious terms in the
business world:


The full article is only available to subscribers (rates are quite reasonable!),
but Nancy helpfully excerpts the section on "agnostic" on her own blog:

Agnostic: In religious parlance, agnostic -- literally "without knowledge" --
refers to a person who has doubts about a deity or religious tenets. (The term
was coined in 1869 by the English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley.) In business,
and especially in technology, agnostic is a suffix attached to words such as
platform, marketing, and media. In those contexts it simply means "neutral" --
a platform-agnostic program can run on PCs, Macs, and Linux machines; a
media-agnostic publication is created for multiple channels (print, online,
broadcast, etc.).

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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