To Control Something

Some years ago I discussed the meaning of the term “control” in this post, but at the time I was mainly referring to the noun “control”. Given I’ll extensively use the term “control” as a verb in the next parts of “the DMZ series” and some upcoming talks I reflected a bit on its meaning (as a verb). In the following I’ll lay out the definition/understanding to be employed at those occasions.

Merriam-Webster defines, amongst others, as follows:

  • “[to] control: to direct the actions or function of (something) : to cause (something) to act or function in a certain way” and
  • “control:  to have power over (something)”.

This associates “control” with an activity where some amount of active steering happens which, to the best of my knowledge and experience, is indeed a very common use of the term in the Anglo-Saxon language area. An interesting point here is, that in most European languages which have a seemingly direct counterpart like “kontrollieren” (in German), “contrôler” (in French) or “controllare” (in Italian) these usually have a slightly different connotation. This applies in particular to the German term “kontrollieren”. Actually one of the most authoritative German dictionaries (the “Duden”) indicates in its spelling section:

  • “kontrollieren: (1) überwachen, (2) Kontrollen ausüben, überprüfen”.

Here “überwachen” equates “to monitor” and “überprüfen” equates “to check”. So the German meaning of “kontrollieren” is not so much about steering the state of things/the world but mostly about monitoring & checking it. For example when in Germany it’s stated “Der Lehrer kontrolliert die Hausaufgaben” (“The teacher controls the homework”) pretty much everybody will interpret this as “the teacher *checks* the homework (the day after it has been assigned)” instead of “the teacher instructs [the pupils] to perform the homework” (which in itself might not have an impact at all ;-).

So why do I mention all this potentially nit-picking stuff at all? Mainly because I think it’s quite important to keep both aspects/meanings in mind when using the term, especially in the context of IoT. Let me provide a simple example: stating that “a self-driving car controls your movement from one place to another” not only has an aspect of active steering but there’s *also* the other side of control which, here, implies “the car knows sth about its state (location) and, presumably, it passenger[s]” and this type of information can be “controlled” in the second sense of the term, that is “checked and monitored” (by a/the “controlling part[y]”).

Hence my use of the verb “to control” in upcoming posts or talks will encompass both angles:

  • “(actively) direct/steer the actions or function of (something)” and
  • “(provide ability to) monitor & check (the state of something)”.

Thanks for reading, now back to some “real work” besides theoretical language reflections ;-),
everybody have a great weekend


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