The ArchLinux Misnomer

From ParabolaWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Note: If you are not yet familiar with the GNU/Linux naming controversy, please read this article on the GNU website first.

The ArchLinux Misnomer

This article exists to clarify the common misconception regarding the name of the ArchLinux operating system distribution (distro). People often ask, "Why not just call it 'Arch GNU/Linux', regardless of the misnomer as the upstream has named it?". The problem with that suggestion is that names are not descriptive nor arbitrary. "ArchLinux" and "Arch Linux" are registered trademarks of a particular product. That product is the distro which is often referred to informally by the nick-name "arch" in the same way that some people may call their VolksWagon Beetle a "vee-wee bug"; but no one thinks that car is an insect by the virtue of it's misleading marketing name. It is probably safe to assume that most people are aware that marketing words are not always accurate descriptions of the products they are hocking. "Giant Shrimp" anyone?.

This is not to make issue with the trademark itself. The predicament is entirely the same regardless of the trademark status. The aim is only to unpack the well-intended, but inappropriate prescription that the distro in question should correctly be called "Arch GNU/Linux". Here, "Arch" is taken as the name of the distro and "GNU/Linux" is given as an additional description, implying that this is a correction to the omission of "GNU" in the original description. The tacet error is that the word "Arch" does not precisely name any distro. This is not to say that the name "Arch" is incorrect due to the trademark name being "ArchLinux"; but it is to say most plainly that there is no distro in existence that actually carries the name "Arch", and so referring to a distro named "Arch" correctly refers to nothing at all.

To be clear, there is a software project named "Arch" that pre-dates the ArchLinux distro and it actually is a GNU project (and not a distro). There came later, the "ArchLinux" project and the distro that it produces by the same name; in which the letters "L-i-n-u-x" are not descriptive, but an integral part of the single-word project name spelling. Just as the word "Wagon", being a part of the name "VolksWagon", does not imply that the VolksWagon company makes wagons. If one wishes to append "GNU/Linux" descriptively to the name of the ArchLinux distro, then the form would be correctly: ArchLinux GNU/Linux. Yes, it looks odd; but the truth is not always pretty.

Suppose now, that someone says, "Fred Flintstone should be called Fred Flintperson; because after all, he is not a stone.". Such a statement can not be reasonably interpreted prescriptively, as if to say, "We should all be vigilant to correct the author's egregious error by indignantly calling that character Fred Flintperson.". Clearly, such a statement can be reasonably interpreted only as a lament, indicating that this person is either joking or sincerely believes that it would have been more descriptive if that name had been chosen rather than the name that poor Fred actually was given; because the given name is misleading (in the same way that the name "VolksWagon" may suggest to some that the company makes wagons). So, it is as plainly incorrect to say prescriptively, that people should refer to ArchLinux as "Arch GNU/Linux" as it is to prescribe that people should refer to the machines that the VolksWagon company produces as "VolksAutomobiles", on the justification that "automobile" is a more accurate description of their products than "wagon". Naturally, one is free to use any commonly recognized nick-names informally (such as "arch" or "vee-wee") ; but the word should is inappropriately pretentious as a prescription for correct nomenclature. One can reasonably say not more than: "The chosen product name is unfortunately misleading; and it would be nice if the trademark holders changed it.".

Furthermore, it is even less appropriate to call those products "The Automobiles made by Volks (the Automobile/Wagon company)"; because that would be more misleading on the count of there being no such company by that name. As with ArchLinux GNU/Linux, it would be more correct to call them VolksWagon Automobiles; where "VolksWagon" is the name and "Automobiles" is the description of their products. Surely people are wise enough to notice that the former is a name and the latter is a description. Even "Fred Flintstone (the cartoon person who is not really a stone)" is more correct and less ridiculous than referring only to "Fred Flintperson".