I have so little knowledge of how other industry’s work (like programming – proper coding, not playing with Webflow) it’s not surprising to sometimes happen on words or idioms that people in other work-spaces have as part of a wonderful alternative lexicon or jargon particular to it.

By way of illustration, a word that came to me last week was ‘cruft’ – “anything that is left over, redundant and getting in the way” and applied here to to software that is badly designed, not necessary, too complicated or totally not needed.

It can be traced back (possibly) to one Harriet Otis Cruft, the donor to Harvard’s Physics department in the 1940’s. Hence the IT link – the word-lint was picked up by MIT students and has now passed (or possibly parsed?) into common usage – especially when bashing programming systems together or trying to build on top of existing code that’s, well, how put it politely? That’s been around a while and bloated way beyond its original purpose.

Cruft-type stuff would be the bits that get left in, possibly out of fear of removing them would stop things working (the ‘dependency hell’) and so by a theological stretch, projects which are haunted by the ghost of The Vicar of Bray.

This idiom goes way back and was a satirical rip at the holder (or possibly two. It seems the Parish of Bray, Berkshire, might have gifted us more than one particular Vicar) of the post who, desperate to stay ‘in office’ (rather than Office365) abandoned all his principles – flip-flopping between liturgies, during the furious gust’s of religious intolerance during the Stuart’s reign.

Kinder observers have called him ‘adaptable’; others ‘resilient’ for sticking to his principles. Tricky to be both, but then some software platforms continue to think they’re above being ‘just’ spreadsheets.

I’d bet that every project you’ve worked on has some Bray-shaped cruft in it, the ghost (or actually someone still in the chair) lurking in the background, quietly steering things just off course.

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

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