Sometimes I will get PC about “PC”

Yes, I’m a former English teacher, and I tend to be a stickler about word choice, phrasing, and grammar. I’m not ridiculous, though. If you want to split your infinitives, I really couldn’t care less. If you say you could care less when you really couldn’t care less, then I’ll get irritated.

But I don’t mind when people say Kleenex to mean tissue or Xerox to mean photocopy. After all, when someone asks for Kleenex and gets a Walgreens tissue, she usually won’t complain, as long as she can blow or wipe her nose. Likewise, someone asking for you to Xerox a paper really just wants a copy made. If you make a copy on a Canon instead, she is highly unlikely to grill you, “I said Xerox. Are you sure you used a Xerox to make this copy? You didn’t sneak over to the Canon copier?”

Language, after all, is about consensus about meaning. If someone says Kleenex, and we all understand it to mean tissue, then there isn’t a problem. Sometimes, though, there are problems with consensus. In some parts of America, carbonated beverages are referred to as cokes. Coke is coke. Dr. Pepper is coke. Pepsi is coke. In other parts of the country, they’re referred to as pop, soda, or soft drinks. In England, they’re called fizzy drinks. Eventually, somehow, we come to understand each other with regard to those yummy caffeine sugar cans.

Then there is the whole Mac and PC thing.

With Apple’s recent “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” campaign, now more than ever rich people are asking whether they should buy a Mac or a PC. Of course, some snarky Windows users will counter that Macs are PCs, since PC originally stood for personal computer. Unfortunately, now, PC means Windows PC, and they need to recognize that change. I recognize it, and I say it’s unfortunate because it leaves alternative operating systems (say, Linux-based ones) out of the question completely.

So when people say “PCs have problems with viruses and spyware,” I do have to correct them and say, “You mean Windows PCs.” If Macs and Windows PCs were the only personal computers out there, I’d be fine with them equating PC with Windows PC, but a non-Kleenex will soak up your mucus the same as a Kleenex will; a Windows PC is a completely different experience from a Linux PC, though. We Linux users may be few, but we exist, and the English language should reflect that existence. After all, we have words in the English language people don’t even use (for examples, watch the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C.).


  1. Sometimes I wonder if the PC Mac commercials are similar to “Pepsi’s” way of keeping the “RC Colas” of the world firmly behind 2nd Place- and really have nothing to do with trying to compete with no. 1?

  2. “. . .I do have to correct them and say, “You mean Windows PCs.”

    could not agree more. but once you say this, you have to talk about operating systems (and what an OS is) generally resulting in confused looks and blowing the mind of the person. No amount of overly simplified allegories can help.

    But, I suppose, progress takes time.

    @ john, totally. This is the fodder for rabid mac fanboys to say “OH LOLZ, YEAH I AM NOT A PC PERSON I AM BETTER, NOT LIKE THAT BORING GUY PC”

    I can’t tell you how many Mac users faces I have forced myself not to smack because of their douchebaggery. Yes, it is a great OS, but it is not the only great OS so STFU already.

    But I often say little or nothing, because it is tantamount to attempting change someone’s political or religious beliefs… and not worth my time.

    And fwiw, imo, if Linux were to be represented in the mac/pc parodies, it would take the form of Voltron and kick both of their sorry asses.

  3. my bad.

    I should explain the Voltron analogy:

    Voltron, a giant robot made up from several smaller robots in the way that Linux is assembled, i.e., a kernel developed in Finland, the Gnome desktop stared in Mexico, etc…

    Then coming together and kicking bot Mac and PCs sorry asses.

  4. Kudos, you’re the first person I’ve seen to recognize this distinction in a non-snarky way.

    I’ll still, however, snobbishly point out to every Mac user at the appropriate time that the strict definition of PC is “personal computer.”

    A friend of mine actually refers to his computer as an ‘Apple’ – it seems less…elitist. Not that Mac users are elitist, but it’s really just another computer – nobody is forcing you to run Mac OS X.

  5. I haven’t heard anyone use the term Xerox for making a copy in a couple of decades now. At work we just say make a copy of it on the copier.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *