The Bugsworth Letters: 3

An image of Uncle Bugsworth,


My Dear Mugwort,

I heard the patient has started to question your guidance. Do not fret. You will find your own unique approach for keeping them dependent on you, but until then, I have shared my most reliable tricks, which I learned from consultants and leaders of thought.

It starts with Compensatory Status Reevaluation through inconspicuous discomfiture. I’m sure you’ve studied the work of Brown and Barton, and you’re well-versed in CSR. But I’ll explain my specific interpretation of their approach to activating evaluative concern through feelings of diminished self-effectuation.

How did that paragraph make you feel?

Confused? A little insecure? You’ve never heard of Brown or Barton or CSR? Egads! You really aren’t prepared for this job, are you? You are lucky that I’m here to guide you.

Are you beginning to get a feel for how this works? If you feel the patient gaining too much confidence, too much independence, it’s time to give ‘em the old razzle-dazzle. Stun and stagger ‘em.

The first and simplest tool to reach for is the N.E.T., which of course is the Novel Extemporaneous TLA. You don’t know TLA either? Tsk tsk. That’s a Three Letter Acronym.

The glorious thing about this tool is that it requires no planning and no expert knowledge. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to effortlessly stack acronyms 2, 3, even 4 layers deep. They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about, and you’ll be an instant fount of wisdom.

The TLA is a more specific form of technical jargon. This can take effort to master, but the right technical term expertly delivered at just the right moment can extinguish even the most thoughtful of discussions and let you re-exert control. One of my favorites is orthogonal. It has a delightfully pretentious mouth-feel, doesn’t it, dear nephew.

For example, if the patient’s utterances are taking a dangerous turn, and there is talk of taking a step back and reconsidering whether all of this complexity is really worth it; you can say, “You’re right, we should talk about system architecture debt at some point, but that’s really an orthogonal concern to the discussion of this specific feature request.”

No soul has the faintest knowledge of what orthogonal means. So nobody can argue with you.

Some other words that may be of particular use to you are idempotent, homoiconic, lambda calculus, set theory, Web3, robustness, resilience, and tautology. There may be decipherable uses of these terms, but they are so misused and misunderstood that even your most confident of associates won’t feel confident disagreeing.

I’ve used this approach for ages, but it was further bolstered in a groundbreaking study at Columbia University by Brown, et al., published in the journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (Volume 161, November 2020, Pages 274-290). This study shows that experts unconsciously use more technical language and that jargon is a good proxy for the speaker’s level of expertise.

Did you look up that study? Do you have any plans to?

No, of course not! Nobody reads the references. If you were to waste your time reading that ridiculous study, it shows that jargon and acronyms serve as status compensation functions, i.e., when people feel inadequate and want to portray themselves as having a higher intellect, they use more jargon. Not a word is spent on the correlation between jargon and actual expertise.

But who cares what the study actually says? Not me. Not the patient. The point is that if you appeal to authority, people will assume you know things, and unless you overreach, your subterfuge will remain undetected.

So if you find your patient bucking guidance or gaining too much confidence, do not worry; this is an opportunity. With the right mixture of acronyms, jargon, and appeals to authority, the patient will remain under your sway indefinitely. In the words of an old friend, razzle dazzle ’em, and they’ll never catch wise.

Your Affectionate Uncle,


This letter is part of a series. Check out the previous letter, here.

What if there were a nefarious figure at work behind the scenes, trying to ruin our efforts to write software—an antagonist to our efforts of quelling complexity?

Well, through undisclosed means and methods, we’ve uncovered a series of correspondences, and they seem to unveil just such a figure—Uncle Bugsworth. He wants software to fail. He wants complexity and entropy to win out over simplicity and functioning software. And he’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.

At least, that’s what we’ve gathered from the letters that we’ve read thus far. See for yourself and make your own judgments.

These are the cordial letters between Bugsworth and his nephew, Mugwort.

(Heavily inspired by CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters)

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