Home > General Interest, Philosophical > Gurus, Wizards, and Computers – A Brief Semantic Battle

Gurus, Wizards, and Computers – A Brief Semantic Battle

I hate being referred to as a “guru.”

This is something I hear in work on a regular basis. “This is Rory. He’s our computer guru.” “Hey, you’re a Mac guru, aren’t you?” This irks me to no end because of my firm stance that “words mean things™.” A guru is a Hindu holy man, or more generically a holy man in any of the languages in the Indo-Aryan language family. Granted, it’s literally someone who imparts knowledge or is a teacher, but that doesn’t change the fact this usage belies some subliminal thought patterns that aren’t terribly helpful.

It hinges on implied Orientalism. The East is an exotic, inscrutable place. Computers are an exotic, inscrutable thing to a lot of people. See where I’m going with this? People are unwittingly setting themselves up for perpetual failure on this one. If you think that you need someone to help you understand computer, then you will. If you think that you’ll never understand computers, then you won’t.

On the other hand, wizard bothers me slightly less. Wizard, or its little brother “wiz/whiz,” has a different connotation. In our culture it implies someone who has devoted himself (or herself) to arcane things, hiding in isolation, acting with borderline fanatical dedication. This is definitely an accurate description of a lot of people I know. While it still has a certain sense of apartness, it feels different to me since it’s not an appropriation from a different culture.

I think I spend too much time in metacognition.

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