I’m tired of people using the expression agnostic when what they really mean is nonpartisan. As an IT professional I hear it often and mostly in this context: “Our product is vendor agnostic, it works with every one.”

I don’t know how this expression became so popular. I wonder who was the first to say it. Doesn’t matter, but maybe we can stop it. It’s just a dumb thing to say. When people say this they sound ignorant–ignorant of the English language anyhow–but for me it spills over to whatever they’re talking about. Funny, because ignorant is what agnostic means. Agnostic means quite literally “I don’t know.” It comes from the Greek /a/ + /gnosis/. Literally /not/ + /knowing/. So, what these people are saying is, “Our technology doesn’t know. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. If your technology works, that’s good for you. But for me, personally, I’m just not committing to anything just yet. I’m just gonna shelve it for now. I’m holding out until I get more compelling evidence.”

Whereas, if what you are trying to say is that our stuff will work with anything, then your stuff is nonpartisan. You aren’t committed to any single vendor or technology–not committed to a party–you will cross party lines, reach across the aisle. There are other words you could use: nondiscriminatory, impartial, unprejudiced… Or you could just say what you mean: that your technology is standards based, or open, or flexible, or has multi-vendor support… However, if you want just a buzz phrase or just like a word that conjures up imagery or is more metaphorical, then I’m gonna have to advocate nonpartisan. It evokes images of Democrats and Republicans working together.

Anyhow, that is pretty much all I had to say about that. Just my little crusade to clean up the English language. I’m not going to get radical here. Not going to be rude. Just know when you say you’re agnostic, it means you’re ignorant. That’s what I’m thinking, even if I don’t say anything.

2 thoughts on “Agnostic v. Nonpartisan

  1. An agnostic is someone who claims neither faith not disbelief in God. A platform-agnostic technology is not tied to any particular platform. Your crusade is misguided.

  2. Joe, a platform-agnostic technology has no faith or disbelief in a platform? I think you are making my argument. “Agnostic” is not good word choice in this context. But, don’t worry about me. This crusade doesn’t take much of my energy or attention.

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