Agnostic (non-theological)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 7 02:52:09 UTC 2010

In computer science differences of opinion concerning operating
systems and computer languages are often described as "religious"
differences. Here is a 1981 example from InfoWorld. (I searched within
InfoWorld simply because Google Books provides a full view for this
periodical, hence the date is verifiable.)

1981 Oct 19, InfoWorld, "Language portability is still a distant
vision" by John Markoff, Page 23, InfoWorld Media Group. (Google Books
full view)

"'Programmers' attitudes toward languages are somewhat akin to your
attitude toward your religion. You go to the same church service as
everybody else, and there are always factions that break off and
design their own language or start their own cult. ..."

The speaker is probably David Cheriton (though InfoWorld spells the
name Cherotin) who later became a billionaire investing in Google.
Given this commonplace framework the use of agnostic is natural. Here
is an example in 1982.

1982 August 2, InfoWorld, "CBM Controversy: reader charges reviewer
bias", Page 37, InfoWorld Media Group. (Google Books full view)

I'm sure Commodore will be glad to know that its machines have the
same kind of devoted worshippers as do Apple's and Radio Shack's. I'm
sorry, but I'm an agnostic.

1989 December 4, InfoWorld, "Spreadsheet Vendors Seek Links to
Servers" by Ed Scannell, Page 13, InfoWorld Media Group. (Google Books
full view)

Asked about his religion when it comes to database servers, Frank
King, senior vice president of Lotus Development Corp.'s software
products group, denied any particular zeal.

"We are fairly agnostic on the subject." King said. Inferring that
Lotus intends to front-end a wide variety of servers with Lotus 1-2-3.

The term "platform-agnostic" appears in a  CNet article in 1997.

June 24, 1997 2:50 PM PDT
Explorer 4.0 to rival Castanet
By Nick Wingfield

"What Microsoft will have to offer will work great on the Active
Desktop. For someone trying to deliver a home banking application that
is platform-agnostic, Microsoft will not work well," he added.

There is a high-probability that "platform-agnostic" appears in a 1989
issue PC Magazine, but I cannot verify the date. Here is a link into
Google Books archive:

In fact, he's been around long enough to call himself a "platform
agnostic." He's seen them come and go, he's familiar with them all,
and he doesn't pull any punches when stating what he likes and
dislikes about any particular operating ...


On Mon, Dec 6, 2010 at 4:15 PM, Federico Escobar
<federicoescobarcordoba at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Federico Escobar <federicoescobarcordoba at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Agnostic (non-theological)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> There was a thread on non-theological "agnostic" back in 2008. An article
> published today on ZNET, about the new Google eBooks site, uses a compound
> with that sense of "agnostic" twice: "platform-agnostic." That goes along
> with what Jeff Prucher had said back in 2008 about the business and
> technology use of that sense of "agnostic." But it seemed strange that the
> writer didn't think it was worth avoiding the repetition of such a bulky
> compound in a matter of a few paragraphs. The article is here:
> A search on the COCA for "noun+agnostic" compounds shows that it's still an
> unusual semantic leap for "agnostic." The word even drew this criticism from
> a Houston newspaper just last year (it's stored in the COCA): "This is an
> incorrect use of the word 'agnostic' that I have noted creeping into the
> vocabulary of American business people over the past year or so. Especially
> among individuals in the financial services industry, the word is being used
> to mean 'indifferent,' as I think Immelt intended it to mean in his usage.
> In business circles today, the word has become one of those buzz words that
> people like to use."
> F.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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