Suppose you heard the term “inaccessible island rail”. What do you think this term refers to? When I heard it, my mind conjured an image of a train line that connected really inaccessible islands.
And that sounds weird. Did someone undertake a project just to create such a rail line? It sounds incredibly costly. And it also sounds like it’d be something cool enough that I would’ve heard about it by now. Nevertheless, what else could this term refer to?
It turns out that a rail is a type of bird. Go figure. So it’s a type of bird that only lives in really remote islands. That makes much more sense than the train situation. Okay.
Except that that isn’t even specifically what this species of bird is. It is a species of rail that only lives on one island, literally named Inaccessible Island. It’s slightly southwest of Tristan da Cunha.
So actually, I slightly lied in the text in the first paragraph, by lowercasing “inaccessible” and “island”. But here’s the thing: you don’t hear capitalization in verbal speech. The uppercase letter hints would not be available to you if someone was orally communicating the term for this bird species to you (and even if you were reading this in text, maybe you would’ve thought the capitalization was probably for other emphasis than to hint that it referred to an island literally named that way). Also note that whereas realizing ‘rail’ probably did not refer to the context of trains could have happened via considering the context of the sentence in which it is used, context would very likely not have helped hint at the ‘Inaccessible Island’ issue.
I claim that ‘Inaccessible Island’ is a poor choice of name for this island. Names should be useful, distinguishing handles, and this name is not that. It was an attempt to reference the island’s inaccessibility, but it decided to do so via a term that would naturally be used anyway to describe islands, thus vastly increasing possibilities of confounding in all terms that refer to it. Calling the sort of bird a ‘rail’ is also unhelpful, but this part is not as problematic, for the reasons stated above.
This sort of naming failure in attempting to make a reference or hint at a metaphor is pervasive in computer science. When looking back at my learning process for many ideas in computer science, I find that this was a massive reason I often got stuck or was confused. People that name tools or ideas relating to computers often try to give them names that refer to parallel entities or processes outside the world of computers, and in doing so make usage of terms often extremely ambiguous.