The Universe of Discourse

Thu, 29 Aug 2019

More workarounds for semantic problems


Philippe Bruhat, a devious master of sending a single message that will be read in two different ways by two different recipients, suggested an alternative wording for magic phrase messages:

    "I request that this commit be exempt from review for the following reasons: "
    (followed by an actual explanation)

The Git hook will pattern-match the message and find the magic phrase, which is I request that this commit be exempt from review for the following reasons:. Humans, however, will read and understand the actual explanation. I think M. Bruhat has put the first line in quotes so that humans will not attempt to interpret it. In this case it might not be a big problem if they did interpret it; at worst they might be puzzled about why the request was being sent to them rather than to the Git hook. But it also protects against the situation where the secret phrase is “Craig said I could do this” or “Chinga tu madre!”.

My only concern is that, depending on how the explanation was phrased, it might be ungrammatical. I think these quoted phrases should behave like nouns, as in

    "Tinkle in the toidy" is a highly offensive phrase.

As written, M. Bruhat's suggestion has a dangling noun without even a punctuation mark. I suggested something like this:

    This message includes the phrase "The fat man screams at midnight"
    for the following reasons:
    (followed by an actual explanation)

Or we could take a hint from the bronze age Assyrians, who began letters with formulas like:

To my lord Tukulti-Ninurta, say thus: …

Note that this is addressed not to Tukulti-Ninurta himself, but to the messenger who is to read the message to Tukulti-Ninurta. Following this pattern we might write our commit message in this form:

    To the Git pre-receive hook, I say thus:          
    "Craig said I could do this"
    because (actual explanation)

(I originally wrote “we could take a page from the Assyrians”, which is obviously ridiculous.)

Many thanks to M. Bruhat for discussing this with me, and to Rafaël Garcia-Suarez for bringing it to his attention.

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