Microspeak: Represent

The more conventional definition of represent is along the lines of "to act as a proxy for". An attorney represents his or her client in court. Your legislator represents you in the assembly. A token on a board represents your position in the game.

At Microsoft, the word represent takes on a stranger meaning. Here are some usages inspired by actual sentences:

  • We need someone to represent this bug at the morning meeting.
  • Can somebody represent which OS versions are affected by this issue?

In the first case, I'm guessing that the word represent means "to act as an advocate for" or possibly just "to serve as a source of information on".

In the second case, it appears that the word represent just means "tell us in an official capacity".

These new senses may be influenced by rap lyrics and what is genteelly referred to as urban culture.

If somebody actually knows what the word "represent" means at Microsoft, please add a comment. I asked the person who made the second statement for a definition, but what came back was merely the "act as a proxy for" definition, which clearly doesn't make sense. (How can a person act as a proxy for a list of operating systems?)

Comments (27)
  1. jcoehoorn says:

    Represent can mean, simply, "speak for".  That meaning fits perfectly in the first example.  

    A large stretch of the definition of the word "for" can also help that fit for the 2nd example, as well.

  2. SRS says:

    My theory: In the first case, ‘represent’ should’ve been written as ‘re-present’, i.e. we’ve seen this bug before and would really like to see it again.

  3. We need someone to represent this bug at the morning meeting.

    More accurately, we need someone to serve as an advocate for the people who will be negatively affected if we ship with this bug.

    Can somebody represent which OS versions are affected by this issue?

    This sounds like someone doesn’t know what "represent" means.  I’ve never heard it used this way before.  I’m guessing they started to say "research" but the vocal equivalent of muscle memory took over halfway through.

    Obligatory reference citation:


  4. John says:

    "Your legislator represents you in the assembly."

    LOL, that’s a good one!  Although Microsoft is so powerful that in their case it is probably true.

  5. Toddsa says:

    In the second statement the word "Represent" is legal form meaning to "Present" or "Serve as an example".

    I have never heard the word "Represent" used in this manner in common speak though.

    In English there are so many rules and usage syntax that if I were a literature or English professor I would go insane. Odd thing about English or most languages I assume. If a term or syntax is prevalent enough, it becomes accepted and legal. So kids if you keep misspelling words or using incorrect syntax just convince everyone else you represent a better way and eventually you will be correct if enough follow you.

    Have you ever wondered how many alternate word spellings are in the dictionary because people misspell the correct term so often? No, I guess you haven’t!

  6. tsrblke says:

    @ Toddsa

    Potatoe, oh wait that hasn’t made it into the dictionary yet.

    But Theater, and color did ;).

    And Whom was "phased" out according to most modern linguists because it’s just not used.

  7. Ken Hagan says:

    I think you’re all going the wrong way on this one. There’s no clever usage of "represent" here. It’s just people trying to sound like managers and ending up sounding illiterate and out of their depth.

  8. Grank says:

    I’m pretty sure these people just mean to use the word "present" or a synonym therein, but end up attaching a "re-" prefix because of, as you mentioned, its pervasiveness in annoying popular culture.

  9. Travis Howe says:

    If you believe Dictionary.com as a reliable source:

    1. to present in words; set forth; describe; state.

    Seems to match the intended usage in the second case.

    Reference: represent. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved November 05, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/represent

  10. Joe Butler says:

    Is it possible they were trying to say:

    Can somebody [take responsibilty and give an official, final and definite list of] which OS versions are affected by this issue?

    Perhaps we’ll never know…

    The problem is when people use language like this, is that the offenders often get defensive when asked for clarification because the acute simplicity of the obvious clarification would reveal the original pomposity.

  11. SuperKoko says:

    If the "present" word is substitued to "represent", the two sentences make much more sense.

  12. asymtote says:

    Sounds to me like the term "represent" includes an implied accountability for the information or bug. In the information case this means that if there is an error in the provided data the "representative" can be held responsible and thus absolve the consumers of the information of any blame. In the bug case the representative is taking responsibility for driving the bug to a resolution of some description.

  13. Keith Bertelsen says:

    In my company, I see the first sense a fair amount. It seems to be shorthand for "represent the team responsible for".

    So if I’m on a call and we have someone who represents application ABC, what they are actually doing is acting as a representative for the team of developers/testers/whatever working on application ABC. It simplifies communication.

    The second sense is wrong, and should probably have been "research". (However, if they’re indicating they want a representative for each affected version, it’s just poorly worded).

  14. Dustin Conrad says:

    I’ve encountered version 1 of represent many times at microsoft.  Never seen version 2.

  15. Eric Lippert says:

    Dictionary.com, pfft.  The Oxford English Dictionary is where it’s at.  It defines "represent" as:

    "To place a fact clearly before another; to state or point out explicitly or seriously to one, with a view to influencing action or conduct, freq. by way of expostulation or remonstrance."

    I am accustomed to Raymond’s first sense being used as a shorthand for "be an advocate of the position that this bug ought to be fixed before such and such a release and that doing so will not impact the schedule, blah blah blah".

  16. MadQ says:

    I only mention this because we’re talking about correct word usage: in English, "to" is always prefixed to the word when referring to a verb, and becomes part of the verb. Thus, in the first sentence, it should have been "to represent", with both words italicized.

  17. My first thought on reading this was a mental image of a coder dressing up as a giant insect then walking into the morning meeting with antennae waving. Entertaining, but probably not useful in developing software.

    Having doctors in the family, my second thought was that doctors and medical students use "present" in the same sense – as in, ‘the patient presented with a fever of 105 and pronounced abdominal tenderness’ or whatever. If you assign a medical student to "present" a patient at rounds later, i.e. explain to the other students what the condition is, using "re-present" in a similar sense for bugs seems logical to me.

    The second sentence, though … nope. Research, identify – but not represent.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I think in the first example, people "representing" the bug would be people representing the folks who will be fixing it, or making those kind of decisions, etc.

    Which reminds me of another example.  When people say they’re "checking in bugs" they really mean the opposite — they’re checking in the fixes.

  19. Sam says:

    I would guess the origin is as a negation of MISrepresent.

  20. Miral says:

    They could have been meaning "re-present" instead.  It’s easy to forget the hyphen, since it’s become optional in many other "re-" prefixed words.

  21. Subzero says:

    What about the word "explain"? I think that’d be more straight forward.

    • We need someone to "explain" this bug at the morning meeting.

    • Can somebody "explain" which OS versions are affected by this issue?

  22. Cheong says:

    I’m thinking of the possiblity of "presenting and take responsibility for it" but unsure.

  23. Mark says:

    In the second usage, it looks as though they are asking for the official statement on what OS versions are affected.

    Who makes such an official statement at a meeting? Why, the representative of the technical team.

    Mix in a bit of laziness, a desire to sound intelligent, and an inability to do so, and you could get the usage above.

    Can [the technical team] represent[ive identify] which OS versions are affected by this issue?

    Once one person uses it, others may pick it up, even if they know better.

    I wonder how well read Raymond’s blog is inside Microsoft. It would be interesting to note whether or not this term is still in common usage in 6 months, after so many comments have been made making fun of people who do this. Although the people most likely to misuse use this term in this way are also probably the least likely to read this blog…

  24. gav says:

    The second case sounds like lazy English to me. "Can somebody represent which OS versions are affected by this issue?" – "Can somebody make a representation as to which OS versions are affected by this issue?", which would go with the ‘formal’ interpretation i.e. requesting somebody in a position of authority through ethos to answer the question. The lack of formality does appear to be a reflection on popular culture though; and, a continuance of people ‘simplifying’ the language, by making it more complicated.

  25. Caliban Darklock says:

    Both uses require a high degree of confidence on the part of the representative. I think this rests along the lines of responsibility and accountability for something.

    We need someone to be responsible for this bug in the meeting tomorrow: if the bug is not discussed or sufficiently advocated, that someone is accountable.

    We need someone to be responsible for the operating system versions affected: if the version list is incomplete or a listed version is not affected, that someone is accountable.

    If people are not willing to be held accountable, they remain silent, and the bug can be shelved or resolved as "Won’t Fix".

  26. John C. says:

    The second usage strikes me as somewhat similar to a usage of "represent" that is common in contract law — in essence, formally asserting a fact. Contracts often have a "warranties and representations" section that contains language like "Company represents that it has no material debts other than those disclosed on Schedule A".

    The particular usage in Raymond’s example does sound a bit awkward to me (especially when simpler terms like "tell us" or "report" would suffice), but the notion of using "represent" as an approximate synonym for "assert" is not entirely without precedent.

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