MSLU: some back-story, some back-formations (and no backwash)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/08/03 05:11 -04:00, original URI:

It was like deja vu or something.

Cathy and I were talking about MSLU, and the whole issue of the code names came up. As I said back in Why/how MSLU came to be, and more, she had proven her PM skill by coming up with the cool code name (Godot) and the cool DLL names. Though I have to admit that there were some names that were more collaborative in their origin, as far as I can recall they all were imagined in her old office in building 9. Which may be how she ended up with authorship credit, sometimes? :-)

That project name (Godot) came out of one of those late meetings and the Samuel Beckett play really did provide the right emotional context. Soon after I started on the project I don't know which was worse -- that we heard about a Windows 95 Unicode Layer written by Basis Technology called Cheops, or that someone from Microsoft (Chris Pratley? Murray Sargent? One of them...) was going on in public about how if Microsoft hadn't done it by now then we never would. Insert eye roll here, please!

Trivia for you all that needs to be captured somewhere, easier to talk about now (since Win9x is no longer supported and all!). The original name of the DLL came out of a meeting between Cathy, Julie, and I late one day. We came up with the Win9x Supplemental eXtension -- or Win9xSUX.dll. And I think I pointed out that the cool thing about hanging out with them is that it was like getting drunk without the hangovers as we laughed about stuff like that. The project was checked into the Windows source tree for at least 24 hours that way, though as soon as Julie found out the name I realized how much it those meetings were like getting drunk -- she immediately said we had to change the name. Like right now. Another late meeting with the three of us, and came up with the UNICOde Win9x Supplement, or UnicoWS.dll. Eureka! And the DLL name was changed, probably before anyone else ever even built it. Sigh of relief for all. If you know what I mean.

Anyway, the "Cow" theme was huge in the project, as I mentioned previously. I still have several of the stuffed cows I picked up at FAO Schwartz after the unicows meeting happened.

Now a back-formation is defined quite simply:

In etymology, the process of back-formation is the creation of a neologism by reinterpreting an earlier word as a derivation and removing apparent affixes, or more generally, by reconstructing an "original" form from any kind of derived form (including abbreviations or inflected forms). The resulting new word is called a back-formation.

Now isn't it a kind of a back-formation that we went off on this whole bovine tangent? Since obviously the whole project was not based on cows (though the "cuteness" factor in the name obviously involved the play on words involving a cow?). Well, at least some of the conversations about bovine things involved back-formations, I think.

But then if you look at the Wikipedia article about MSLU, it talks about libunicows and Opencow, the open source versions of unicows.lib and unicows.dll. And the name Opencow is definitely a back-formation.

The original public project name MSLU (the Microsoft Layer for Unicode) had its original open source version named MZLU (the Mozilla Layer for Unicode) and that is clearly a back-formation, too. But of an entirely different kind, being both such obvious attempts at acronyms and all....

By the way, I am not a lawyer; but I think a lot of the MZLU/Opencow project seems to be based on some misunderstandings of the licensing restrictions on unicows.lib and unicows.dll, but the cross-platform requirements of libunicows are slightly more convincing of a need so even were I to argue for changes to clarify the license (which I have done on at least two occasions before to make specific customers more comfortable with the project and using it) the projects would still have to exist, so it seems kind of pointless to argue the issue. If you know what I mean.

But how is this post for a horking huge chunk of MSLU back-story with no backwash? :-)


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