Four Letter Words

“We really need it. If we don’t we can’t make the customer happy. Wouldn’t it be
easy if we just did it like that? Can you try it real fast?”

‘Just’ seems to be a favorite word. Anytime someone uses it, they don’t mean ‘just’,
they mean “just this and all of this too.”

When a client says ‘I need you to make a change’. It would make all the difference if
they said ‘Could you please make a change’.

Yeah, I know I need to get over it but man ‘need’ drives us crazy.

When collaborating with others – especially when designers and programmers are
part of the mix – watch out for these dirty four letter words:

• Need
• Must
• Can’t
• Easy
• Just
• Only
• Fast

They are especially dangerous when you string them together.

Of course they aren’t always bad. Sometimes they can do some good. But seeing
them too often should raise a red flag. They can really get you into trouble.

It’s not four letters but I would add ‘truly’ to the list. It’s a pointless word that signals
to me that I should distrust everything else you’re saying. “We truly need this feature
for the next version.” Uh, no.

Truly is definitely another red flag.

Additionally, other words that should raise a red flag are:

Possible Almost Under Elephant

Same thing on our project team, some words are practically forbidden (mainly the
dutch version of just) 🙂

Thre letter word I hated ‘but’ … Example with a four letter word. “But can’t you … “

“want” is another.

Especially in the hands of people who think “I want” makes their request impervious
to cost, time and resource constraints.

Would ASAP count?

Those might be bad words in a request, but they’re pretty good in a response.

“Oh, you must really need that. I can’t believe we didn’t already think of it! Should
be pretty easy to do. Just give me 10 minutes.” “Only 10 minutes? Thanks, that’s

Actually, the one that has stood out to me in multiple positions, that is an immediate
red flag, is anyone who says “Can’t we just….”

Especially when said in front of a client.

The boss says that exact quote all the time.

How about this: “Just focus on what you can do fast, and deliver only what the client

Let’s take commonly used words and make them scary and avoidable!

It’s less about the vocabulary and more about the intent. I’ll wholly grant, though, that
“easy” is dangerous, because it mostly gets used to mean “easy for me, because
you’re the one doing it”.

Few more words to add:

Somehow“ Somehow can we make the data appear”
Somewhere “The data is stored somewhere, but for now…”
Something “They aren’t sure what they want, just give them something”
Maybe “Maybe the data is stored in Access, but they’re already tired of me asking
questions, just….”

The trick is identifying what’s a core business element and what’s a nice to have

“Just” caries with it a sense of simplicity and speed. It packs all of the punch of
“easy” and “fast” and can also imply incompetence. Every “just” costs $10,000

So what words do you use in place of these?

Yeah, those comments pop up a lot in your forums, under feature requests. It’s gotta
drive you nuts.

One of the longest design job came from a client who “just” wanted a “simple”
invitation done. Well over 12 hours and at last count 8 drafts later, we arrived at an
invitation that should have taken an hour.

@Gabe: The goal should be eliminating those words and the the phrases that make
them dirty, not replacing them.

Yeah, I’m not sure I’m buying this as something that can be avoided. Everyone in the
room is speaking from their own perspective and using words that have different
relative meaning to themselves vs. what it means for others. I say easy all the time.
It’s what my brain tells me I should say. Why? – because I think easy is a term that
most reasonable people would assume to mean – “not hard.” Uh oh, that’s only
relatively meaningful also!

Can we add “User” to the list of dirty words? As in, some manager says, “Users
won’t like it that way,” which means, “I want it this way, not that way.”

So how can a client, especially a non-tech savy one, communicate with developers /
designers better?

I guess the great thing about having nothing to say is that at this point you can just
make up random stuff like this and get away with it. It’s not about words but actions –
this post is a load of crap.

@Avi et al,

This topic got me thinking enough to write about it. It’s people expressing their desire
to achieve something, but not knowing how to express it.

Overtime you help the client to express things to you better, but it’s not the clients job
to start off ‘right’ from the get go by not using those words (heck I actually like to hear
need vs want, it helps prioritise..).

It’s us (as developers, business analysts) jobs to elicit those requirements properly
from the clients, they’re paying us to be the experts, and part of that is listening and
taking what they tell us and translate it into what is needed to be written.

Suresh Shah, Managing Director, Pathfinders Enterprise

3 responses to “Four Letter Words”

  1. ketan narshana says:

    in prectical, there are so many words having almost same meaning or near by.
    when we want to conway our thought or requirement these type of impressions come ups.. which word is weighted also counted.. people using ‘rather’ replasing their need.
    its my thought.
    please count it as easy as u can..

  2. Suresh.Shah says:

    Thanks for expressing your views, Ketanbhai. Read more and you get rich vocabulary. Using appropriate words is more on what you want to express – demand, appeal, forceful in your views, etc.

  3. admin_1_user says:

    Thanks Ketanbhai. Four letter words are actually used to be abuses. Now, there is an addition. The four letter words shown in the write is used by force of habit. You may play safe with such responses or, may come in trouble. The idea is to be careful of different interpretations. As I say, there is no Universal dictionary for interpretation – what you mean and said, to what is understood / interpreted. In business world, one has to be careful about it.