What does “program” mean?

Between taking the CPLA (Certified Public Library Administrator) Budget & Finance course, attending some ILS (Integrated Library System) demos, and meeting with our awesome architects and contractors, I think I am beginning to lose my grip on the English language. I am in acronym hell, as you can see, but even worse, I am having to force my brain to redefine words randomly, and retain those random new definitions. Ugh.

In the computer demos, they used terrible words like “architected”, and that was in the good, understandable demo. In the un-understandable demo, they used acronyms every other sentence which they didn’t ever explain to those of us who are barely hanging in there, as if they were words on their own and not acronyms. It was all “API” this and “OAI-PMI harvesting” that. In discussing the catalog, they talked about using “facets” (a peculiar use of a word but I do know from experience what it means) to search your “assets” (which frankly I’m not sure what the heck they were talking about but it seemed to be something to do with material you have created yourself as opposed to books). It is extraordinarily poor communication, which I think is kind of funny when you have come to communicate with a room full of people. Sports uses terrible words too, like today’s awful “audiblized” but it was a fun game to watch and the Bears won so it’s not as painful as it might otherwise be.

But that’s not the worst of it, for me. The worst of it is that sometimes I genuinely need to understand what someone is talking about, and I can’t because they are using English words to mean things that they don’t mean. (Yes, I am being judgmental.) Accountants seem to be particularly notorious for this. A debit is a credit and a credit is a debit…sometimes. The particular word that I have almost given up hope on is “program”. I am a children’s librarian, and we know what a program is. It is an event where people come to your library to watch puppets, say, or a magician maybe. Right?

But that is not what architects mean by program. They mean (I think) all of the work that goes into what your building project is going to be–not the plan itself but the work leading up to the document that they will use to create the plan. How they get program to mean that, I do not know. Fortunately, our architects do speak English and it is a relief after some of the earlier presentations.

Computers of course run on programs, and you can learn various programming languages. If you go to a play, they may hand you a program so you can know the details of what you are watching. If someone wants to be mean to you, they might tell you to “Get with the program,” which I guess is using program to mean “plan” or “what we are doing”. If you are a Brit, then all of these are spelled programme instead.

The definition that is most confusing to me currently is budget-related. As far as I can tell, in a budget, program means, “Whatever the person making the budget wants it to mean”.  When I was on my church’s vestry and we were working on a budget, program then meant basically “the stuff we do” as opposed to the expenses of keeping the building running. That at least made some sense to me. But in other budgets, you can divide up your expenses into “programs,” which seems to being used here as a synonym for category. You can create a program budget where all of your expenses are categorized into their programs…so why can’t they just call it category? And how are you supposed to put in a budget for your programs (you know, puppet shows and magicians and storytimes) when you have already used that word up?

I think clearly the solution is that the Business schools and the Architecture schools and most of all the computer schools need to hire more English majors if they want to communicate with the rest of us.

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