Stumbling Over Building Blocks

I recently received a request to discuss the use of “architect” as a verb. Here’s what I came up with:

Turning nouns into verbs is a normal process in English. Stabbed in the back? You’ve been knifed. Worked to the point of exhaustion? You’ve been hammered
 But when a noun gets verbed in a particular language community it’s also normal for outsiders to be annoyed or indignant. In the world of digital design “architected” has become a popular term. The example given by the Oxford Dictionaries Website is “an architected information interface.” 
 Various uses of “architect” as a verb have been around for a long time, but technical writers should be aware when writing for general audiences that many readers find this usage annoying. In such contexts, it’s better to use “designed” or “built” when those words convey the same meaning.
This Common Errors in English Usage entry illustrates my general attitude toward innovations in language. It’s not true that “architected” as a verb is “not a word.” Here’s the Oxford English Dictionaries‘ entry on the subject:

Etymology:  < architect n.
 To design (a building). Also transf. and fig. 
1890   Harper's Mag. Apr. 809/2   We would not give being the author of one of Mr. Aldrich's beautiful sonnets to be the author of many ‘Wyndham Towers’, however skilfully architected. 

1913   W. Raleigh Some Authors (1923) 3   He has come out of the prison-house of theological system, nobly and grimly architected.


  architected adj. designed by an architect.
1923   Public Opinion 29 June 622/3   A..vague notion that a building ought to be architected.

  architecting   n. and adj.1912   R. Macaulay Views & Vagabonds viii. 153,   I have no sort of interest in the architecting or building trades.
1818   Keats Let. July (1958) I. 350   This was architected thus By the great Oceanus. [But see architecture v.]

The OED entry also contains this warning in red: “This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1972)." We may expect the dictionary eventually to recognize the contemporary expanded use of “architected.” Others have already done so: Dictionary.com gives as an example “the house is well architected.” The Collins English Dictionary defines the verb as meaning “to plan or create (something, esp a computer system).” Even more liberal is Wiktionary: “to design, plan, or orchestrate. He architected the military coup against the government.” The usually trendy Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online has not yet recognized the verb form, nor has Apple’s Dictionary app. But the expression is firmly embedded in modern usage.

It is not architects who have popularized the contemporary technical use of “architected” as a verb. It probably originated among computer programmers, but it has spread widely in business contexts as well. No amount of objection will eliminate its use from these contexts, and it is pointless to label it flatly as an error. But it is useful for writers to know that this usage annoys some readers.

So what is it doing in Common Errors in English Usage? I was originally influenced by the title of a  small volume by a colleague: Correcting Common Errors in Writing. I had no idea in 1997 that my site would swell into a huge usage resource often dealing with words and patterns that are not strictly speaking errors. For a host of reasons, it’s not practical to change the title; but I've taken pains on both the Web site and in the printed book to explain my loose definition of “error” and am comfortable writing about usage which I do not consider erroneous although others may do so.

No comments: