What are sloppy microchips?
Does the term “sloppy microchips” turn you off? If so, maybe you would prefer a mild, indirect, or vague substitution for offensive, unattractive, or blunt words: the euphemism!
A fascinating article in The Economist details the advent of “sloppy” microchips, which tolerate errors while operating. The trick will be controlling when and where these errors occur. The result, however, is smaller and faster microchips that consume less energy.
But who wants to buy a cell phone that contains sloppy microchips? It just doesn’t sound good, and researchers know it. So they’ve come up with a few possible replacements:
- “inexact hardware”
- “probabilistic computing”
- “relaxed correctness”
- “relaxed liability”
The problem with euphemisms
People who use euphemisms usually have good intentions. Consider the sentence When did his daughter pass away?—it’s softer than When did his daughter die? The same goes for Why were you laid off?—a softer version of Why were you fired?
Other examples of euphemisms include “correctional facility” for “prison,” “the birds and the bees” for “sexual intercourse,” and “neutralize” for “kill.”
The problem with euphemisms, of course, is that clarity is often compromised. Comedian George Carlin made this point when he astutely observed the change in the term for an overload of the human nervous system brought on by intense stress (usually from combat)—what we now call PTSD. (See video below.)
If sloppy microchips conserve power in a cell phone battery, why not call them “energy-efficient microchips” or “green microchips”? Either term would be clearer than “relaxed correctness.”
Matthew Kushinka is the founder and principal of RedLine Language Services LLC. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the company helps commercial clients create, revise, and translate their written content. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with Matthew on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.