“Performant” is not a word

Well actually it is, but it’s not what you think, even though it should be.

At one point I thought I invented the word ‘performant’ as a term to mean “performs acceptably” or “it’s really fast!!” kinda like ‘compliant’. But then I noticed other people I didn’t know were using it too.

The only problem is that it’s not a word. One dictionary defines it as “a performer” like in a play. That’s clearly not what we mean, but it makes sense. There’s even a company with Performant in their name, though they don’t seem to have anything to do with high performance.

So what’s a renegade linguist to do? Just keep on using performant. Eventually the dictionaries will catch on. Hey, if Doh can make it, surely performant should have a place.

In related news, Wired has finally decided to stop capitalizing ‘internet’. Did you hear that, AP?

116 Comments

  1. I find it amusing that it is not a word because it is not in the dictionary. How did all those words get in there in the first place and why are there new versions of the dictionary? English is a evolving language, I am sure that if you went back 200 years and started talking about email and internet they would think you mad for making up words… Oh and we should scrap any Latin, French, German or any other languages that have crept into common day discussions, papers, etc. as these are not words by you definitions.

  2. I’m amazed that this discussion has been going on for nearly three years! I wonder how many more before the dictionaries catch up and include this wonderfully polarising word. To add my $0.02, performant (for me, and where I’ve seen it used) means “operating at a preferred level of performance”.

  3. I’ve heard and used this word for quite a long time (at least several years) in the IT industry in the US. I started using it simply because I saw it used and nobody whinged about it. (for the record, my spellchecker on OS X underlines whinged, but that’s definitely a “real” word. Let’s face it, spellcheckers are never 100% accurate out of the box). I’m not a consultant and never have been.

    I don’t usually hear “xyz is performant”, but in that context I would interpret it to mean “xyz is operating at an acceptable rate, not necessarily screaming fast, but fast enough to not be a problem”.

    I usually see it in comparisons, i.e. “xyz is more performant than zyx”, which means simply that the former is capable of doing more in the same amount of time, or with lower latency, given the same operating parameters.

    “Well, that’s technically possible, but it would probably be less performant than our current approach.”

    And well, this is english. Much as I hate it, it is as people say, the dictionary is based on usage. I really like languages like Icelandic that fight loan words and try to keep the language more consistent, but that’s not at all what English is.

  4. The useful thing about a word like “performant”, particularly for consultants and marketing people, is that it has no clear definition; it’s another weasel-word, like “premier”.
    Try googling for “the industry’s premier” and ask yourselves what those phrases actually mean: cheapest? fastest? most reliable? resilient? popular?
    It means whatever you want it to mean, and it makes a product sound better, in some imprecise, unprovable way.

    Like “premier”, “performant” means something positive and desirable but not legally binding.

    I generally read it as “our legal department won’t allow us to say ‘fast’.”

  5. Another visitor brought here by Google….

    I hear too many lazy writers out there. In the comparative case, why do we need a new way to say “X performs better than Y”? The sentence “X is more performant than Y” sounds like it’s got something to hide and actually seems to cloud the issue. Does it mean X adheres to a [nameless] performance standard more closely than Y?

    Also, a few thousand hits on Google means less than nothing. It’s just a snapshot of usage, not an arbiter of it. Also, don’t conflate the addition of Latin words to the English language with the adoption of neologisms. Nobody is suggesting that the original use in English was the byproduct of a French speaker reaching for a known word to describe something in English. By that measure, we could add -ed or -est onto any word in any language and call it English. Perhaps this is why many Americans are such appalling writers and spellers. After all, they say, it’s common usage isn’t it? Although, they usually leave the apostrophe out of “it’s” in that sentence because they don’t remember the difference, and besides nobody cares, right?

    Ignorance of the niceties of grammar and spelling is often thrown up as a defense of all sorts of stupidity. That doesn’t make it a noble cause.

    Adopting new and interesting words will always happen. I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting it stop. But I think clear writing is the result of clear thinking. Unclear writing is, well, left as an exercise for the few who are still interested in this topic.

  6. Hi,

    I am from Austria – not Australia πŸ™‚
    The word “performant” is a common used word in German, but I think it is not a regular word which you will find in any wordbook.

    You also can say “Es ist ein performantes system” which means it is a system with good performance.

    I hope I could help a little.
    CU,
    Johann

  7. What the hell is wrong with “FAST?” or “sufficiently fast?”

    There is something a renegade linguist can do when they use the obnoxious “performant” — look for me, cause I’ll be there looking to break your pencils.

  8. I just saw this in a message today: “a high performant content replication strategy must be employed.” What’s wrong with “high-performance,” since that’s what they clearly mean? With brazillians of words in the English language, do we really need to adopt new words that are created from whole cloth by people who are apparently unable to spell?

  9. The problem with this stupid word is that it’s vague. In the original post, the author states that he thought he had coined a new word that meant performing “acceptably” or “really fast”. OK, so which is it? If someone says, “SQL Server 2008 is performant” do they mean it barely gets by or that it’s a barn-burner?

    One idiot wanted to keep the word “performant” because of the word “participant.” Memo to idiot: the word you’re looking for is performer.

    Other freaks wax eloquent about how English is an evolving language. Granted. But evolution should bring about the survival of the fittist terms, not stupid 1984-esque non-words like “performant”.

    Un-words like ‘performant’ are the verbal equivalent of second-hand smoke: won’t kill you but sure are annoying.

  10. O.K.

    Then tell me, oh great community of all knowing linguists, what word should I use in place of performant in the following sentence. Keep in mind it must convey the same meaning, unambiguously, as well as be succinct.

    “The system is less performant during times of high stress, as its efficient design leaves little to no margin of available processing capability.”

    should I say “The system performs at a lower level during times …” or “The system has a reduced performance during times …” ???

    Neither of these alternatives conveys quite the same message, is more succinct, or ‘flows’ as easily. the word is obviously needed, and not simply by lazy authors.

    I’m voting to ban the word ‘keyboard’, as it is most definately an inelegant, and linguistically meaningless word. A ‘keyboard’ is not made of wood, and won’t open a lock. It did not exist prior to 200 years ago either in dictionaries or popular use, and therefore has no right to exist now. The ruling body of the english language should decide which word should be used to describe the “thingy that my fingers manipulate to choose letters” in order to create this message, and quickly, because this “thingy that my fingers manipulate to choose letters” is a somewhat cumbersome method to describe a thingy that my fingers ….

    I suggest the word “pottawumpcrillipusaxigenticallator”,

    Or possibly “qwertyuiop”, or the less imaginative “letterchooser”.

    Why is a keyboardist someone who plays an electric piano or organ, when a typist is someone who ‘plays’ a keyboard?

    • That was the single, most hilarious post I have read in a long time!

      For the record, I believe the word “performant” has a place in the English language as well. And spelunker used it perfectly in his sentence.

  11. Spelunker says:
    “what word should I use in place of performant in the following sentence. Keep in mind it must convey the same meaning, unambiguously, as well as be succinct.”

    β€œThe system is less performant during times of high stress, as its efficient design leaves little to no margin of available processing capability.”

    The non-word “performant” is very vague in your sentence. It doesn’t help at all.

    When you say a system is less “performant”, what do you mean? Do you mean that it responds more slowly? Well, then, say it responds more slowly. Do you mean that it locks up?
    Then say, the system tends to lock up under stress. Does it crash? Then say the system crashes under stress.

    That wasn’t hard.

    One note to spelunker:

    Your example sentence didn’t seem to make sense. You wrote:

    β€œThe system is less performant during times of high stress, as its efficient design leaves little to no margin of available processing capability.”

    Why would a “less performant” system be caused by an “efficient design”?

  12. As already mentioned, performant is a french word meaning: high-performance, efficient, competitive

    see:

    http://www.wordreference.com/…/performant

    Anyways, so is the word “performance” as well as about half of all words used in English which originally come from French (the other half have germanic roots, since English is a germanic language). So, don’t worry about it, keep using it, eventually they’ll add this one to the English dictionary as well πŸ˜‰

    Cheers

  13. spuhler:”As already mentioned, performant is a french word meaning: high-performance, efficient, competitive”

    And also, as already mentioned, many people think this non-word means “performs acceptably”. So is it just ‘acceptable’ or is it beyond acceptable and into the realm of ‘high performance’? If you want to use the French definition as a basis for the English definition, then do so. But be sure to correct all those who think ‘performant’ means merely ‘acceptable’.

  14. This is a thread I cannot resist.

    What utility does “performant” have over existing forms?

    If you value clear communication, it is a good idea to favor words which are commonly understood, using sentence structures which do not call attention to themselves.

    Why say “The system is performant” and leave the listener guessing whether you meant “The system performs well” or “The system is capable of performing [at all]”? Encouraging the use of such nebulous terms only serves to alienate listeners and detract from the clarity of communication.

    Until there is general public agreement on meaning, words such as performant often have a purpose contrary to good communication. Often they are designed to serve the speaker by alienating others. IT departments are notorious for this, employing complex technical terms specifically to exert power over others who know less about computers.

    Let’s not add performant to their arsenal.

  15. I’ve used performant for a while in conversation. Now I needed to check spelling and Google linked to this site. I think I will use it even though the spell checker rejects it. The great thing about English is that it’s allowed to evolve. In England we even have versions called Hinglish (Hindu-English), Chinglish, Binglish, etc. As to using French words – since when has that been an issue, modern English contains many many words from other languages! The key thing is that people understand what you are trying to say – the context of my use of “performant” will make it obvious.

    As for IT making up new words, remember IT is 50% jargon and the rest is bull !!… it’s made me a lot of money over the years anyway πŸ™‚ Worry more about legal documents – they use words that are just like normal English words but often have a very different meaning. At least most IT specific words have to be looked up by the non-IT person.

  16. I found this because I was looking for a way to criticise someone for using the non-word in a document I was reviewing without sounding like a total cow… But god, it does annoy me. Like when people use “leverage” as a verb when in fact it is a noun. I know it’s anal but there are already enough words in the English language to say whatever you need to say, a new word would only need to come into existence to support a new concept. I don’t believe “stuff working properly” to be a new concept so “performant” is pointless.

    • I know it’s been many years since this comment, but I just had to point out that, as of now at least, “leverage” is in the dictionary as a transitive verb. It’s defined as “to use (something valuable) to achieve a desired result”. The example given is “The company wants to leverage its brands more effectively.”

      Times change. Performant is a perfectly cromulent word πŸ˜‰

  17. I’m deeply, deeply against the term. It’s next to useless for quoting since it only makes sense in context. It’s incredibly vague given how many measurements have been used for the performance of computer systems. A system is equally “more performant” if it can render more frames per second in Doom than a competitor as it would be if it uses less electricity. It’s a word that can’t stand on its own.

    Spelunker will disagree but his example:

    β€œThe system is less performant during times of high stress, as its (too? -S) efficient design leaves little to no margin of available processing capability.”

    Is crying out for the word “slower.” It’s a simpler word and if you need to hide behind complicated words in reports that may indicate you don’t believe your content stands up for itself. Don’t worry about simpler language and using one word instead of two, no one will mind.

  18. Actually, I think most of you are being rather silly. This is how words enter a language: through popular usage. Not through some prescriptive set of opinions of what is and isn’t word. If you try adopting a descriptivist attitude about language, you may find it a lot more interesting. The process of neologisms entering a language’s popular vocabulary should be cool, not tragic.

    I bet nearly all of you are using words in your postings that your past counterparts (even 50 to 100 years ago) would have complained about with equal vigour. Consider that for a moment.

  19. Second what “Chill out” said. Language is fluid, and there is no authoritarian “gatekeeper” of the English language. If a word enters popular use and gradually people come to understand its intended definition, then it for all intents and purposes is a part of the language.

    Don’t have a heart attack because it’s not in the dictionary — as has been said, 50 years ago a number of commonplace words in use today weren’t in there either.

  20. Performant as a word isn’t performant.

    There. What have I said? Nothing!!! Because the term ‘performant’ is an obfuscation uttered by techno-dorks who have no appreciation for English!

    I bet “Chill out” and “John Fitzgerald Page” (thanks for including the middle name there, John) use the word “irregardless” too.

  21. I can say I disagree strongly with Chiller And F. Scott Fitzgerald’s posts. While most can agree that the English language is fluid, can’t we aspire to something more noble than to just give into widespread banal misuse of terms that constitute the backbone of our native (if not wonderful) language? Do you all blindly accept “laxadasical” to be a natural evolution of “lackadasical”, “axe” from “ask”, or “in regards to” from “with regard to”? These are just a few of the countless terms idioms and articles that are being forced upon us because large majority of the speakers/writers of the English lexicon are inherently lazy. I choose to run the other way up this slippery slope — castigating the use of “performant”, and other half-assed attacks on our culture, and doing my part to resist the slow descent into idiocracy. You would do well to do same.

    I also find it a bit “ironical” that the strongest arguments for accepting performant into English is that is it a word in French, Romanian, and other languages!!!! Perhaps one of the techno-geek posters out there can tell me why that isn’t a circular argument?

  22. Although I haven’t read all the comments, the most accurate meaning of “performant” is something whose actions are in accordance with specs. An actor who is performing according to the predefined script is a performant. The computer module that performs according to specs is a performant. I like it!

  23. BTW, don’t dis the English language. It’s ability to change is a beautiful thing. Reference England after the year 1066. It didn’t disappear, but only got stronger. Compare the number of slyables needed to express somthing in English vice other languages.

  24. It is irrelevant that language is fluid; technical writing is all about conveying precise and unambiguous meaning.

    Using made up words with ambiguous meaning just means that you have failed to convey your meaning.

    Furthermore, I don’t see what benefit this form has over the many other unambiguous forms of saying the same thing:

    β€œThe system is less performant during times of high stress…”

    “The system has lower performance during times of high stress…”

    Only one of those phrases is unambiguous. The other just makes you look like you’re an uneducated nob who can’t communicate on a technical level.

    • Uhhhmmm… What does “lower performance” mean to you? Is it slower? Is it performing at lower capacity? Is it using less resources? It certainly isn’t unambiguous to me!

      Whereas, to me, Spelunker’s original usage of performant is pretty clear: “the system is performing less well during time of high stress”. And before anyone points it out, his phrase is much more succint and elegant than mine. πŸ™‚

  25. I’m a conservative on this, being a journalist who works in IT. The biggest problem is that by “making up” or adopting words, we bury ourselves in jargon which does nothing to alter the opinion of many that we are merely geeks talking Dalek to each other so they don’t understand us. That’s fine among ourselves, but when our masters who pay for our services get fed up with us, they outsource and close us down.
    You may be performant but you might also be stupant.

  26. I can’t believe someone would actually own up to adding this awful word to the English language. I would say I don’t have to use it, but I do…and that’s why I’m bitter.

  27. The word ‘Performant’ is used in the book C# 4.0 from O’Reilly. “…an example is the rgular expressions API which emits performant types tuned to specific regular expressons.”

    So maybe the use of it has become ‘official.’

    Greg

  28. The first time I saw the word “performant” I knew exactly what it meant and assumed it to be a real word.

    Alternatively I would have no idea what was meant by “performative”, but apparently that’s a “real” word (www.thefreedictionary.com/performative) while “performant” isn’t. Go figure.

  29. Why are so many of you so angry? I understand the argument with the use of words in a language and communicating with other people, and with those people being able to understand their meaning. But really, how many of you (those against its use) honestly didn’t understand what was meant in the context of the sentence the first time you saw it used? Sounds like you are just being grumpy and obstinate.

  30. cripes, in computer land we invent words all the time. it’s pretty obvious what it means and i like it and use it regularly. if the oxford dictionary can’t keep up, who cares? If one word suffices where 2 would have worked, then great, use the more terse form.

  31. For the people asking for succinct alternatives, here you go:

    most performant = fastest
    more performant = faster
    performant = fast
    less performant = slower
    least performant = slowest

    My 3rd grade son came up with those.

    • With all due respect to your third-grade son, you assume that performance is measured solely in speed. System performance is not just about speed. It may also include load capacity, throughput, resource usage, etc…

  32. Burt, those are not alternatives, so I don’t know what point you’re trying to make. Performant in regards to computer systems does not mean “fast” or “slow.” Performance with computer systems consists of a broad set of metrics that don’t directly correlate to speed, and speed of one operation is not necessarily related to speed of another operation.

    If I say, “ensure a healthy, performant architecture,” then I am admittedly being vague to some degree, but that is because you cannot list out several hundred performance metrics individually with separate descriptions. Instead, I use one word that covers the entire set of metrics in one, easily understood word.

    Anyway, I was concerned with my natural usage of the word in a proposal and am truly trying to decide whether I should continue using it or not. Despite the virulence (I used my dictionary just for the “haters”) spewed by those who dislike this “word,” I have still not seen a viable alternative.

    – Less performant does not simply mean lower performance
    – Less performant does not simply mean slower
    – Less performant means that some metrics within the totality of the system will be affected negatively

    Yes, it is non-specific, but you cannot always be explicit about the exact performance metrics that will be affected, and even if you can, it would require a much longer explanation that may not be suitable at the time.

    I am still open to alternatives, but I have never seen a word – that includes this entire set of blog comments – that gets the point across in the same was as “performant” at least in the way that I use it as an IT consultant.

    • You hit the nail on the head. I was amazed that I had to scroll down this far till someone made this point. I thought I was going to have to make it myself.

      The power of any given word does not just come from being specific but can also come from being ambiguous. I use the word performant specifically when I want to convey meaning of more than one aspect of the efficiency and performance of a system but not necessarily all. More/Less (speed, memory, latency, CPU cycles, cost, resources, power consumption, etc.)

      So the questions is why not just say… “It’s faster, uses fewer resources, and has less latency.” …. Well if I want to be specific about it, I would say that. But here is the key that I think is being missed; The details don’t always matter.

      Saying something is “more performant” or “less performant” is simply saying that compared to the alternative it performs better or worse on a number of factors

      Saying something “is performant” is simply saying that is performing in the acceptable range of performance on a number of factors

      Vagueness in a word is exactly why you choose a word. For example when I visit my friend in Hamburg Germany, I will tell my friends in Europe that I am going to Hamburg, I tell my friends in the US that I’m going to Germany, I tell my boss I’m going to Europe. Different people need different levels of detail in communication it is up to the communicator to understand the level of detail that needs to be conveyed for each appropriate communication.

      As far as performant goes….
      CEO: “It’s better”
      VP of Engineering : “It’s more performant”
      Senior Technical Engineer: “It’s faster, uses less power, and uses memory more efficiently”

  33. Office 2010 don’t like the word….that is how i ended up on this website, when i checked to see why the red line appear under ‘performant’ in my presentation.
    i will keep on using it if you like it or not MS lol

  34. Performant sounds ugly to my ear.

    If used with the meaning ‘performs to specification’ then it is at least briefer than alternatives and arguably expressive too. But anyone using ‘more performant’ just to mean faster or less performant to mean slower needs to take themselves outside have a strong word in their own ear. Faster and slower are much better for that purpose.

    As Clayton points out more/less performant should really mean closer to/further from a given specification. But even that isn’t completely satisfactory as performant would seem to me to be an absolute. So something is truly either performant or not.

    And this is why I really don’t like the word. Start using performant and you’ll probably start using nonsense phrases like more performant and less performant. Perhaps closer to performant and further from performant might be better but they still seem clunky.

    Personally I prefer to see the spec used as a shorter version of specification and used instead. On spec, closer to spec, further from spec. All much less problematic.

  35. @Tom (post 82) –

    How is ‘is less performant’ more ambiguous than ‘has lower performance’?

    ‘Has lower performance’, as per your example, seems like a passing condition – a way you might describe a slow system as a whole. ‘Non-performant’ seems like a way you might describe a specific component – a poorly written SQL query, or a server with too little RAM. I suppose in an extreme case an entire system could be classified this way as well.

    Let’s use compliant and non-compliant as a model. Either something is performant or it is non-performant; either it meets the standards or fails to meet them.

  36. I used to work at the AP. Their ‘god’ document is called the AP Style Guide (as I’m sure you know). It gets refreshed only periodically, so maybe on the next round they’ll drop the capitalization on Internet. I’ll drop the guy a note and make the request ;-). I’ve had a few beers with him lol.

  37. If we adopt the loosely-maintained convention that adjectives prefer to end in -ent rather than -ant (e.g. corpulent, reticent, ancient, magnificent, prurient) and that the word ‘performant’ does in fact mean ‘one who performs’ (in the tradition of words like applicant, complainant, tenant, etc…) we’re actually left with two different words; this permits us to form such abominations as “this performant’s performance is performent”.

  38. I don’t think you invented it and I probably didn’t either, but I know the usage goes back to ’89. I worked at Lotus/cc:Mail where one of the software engineers was also a writer and noticed I used and that was around ’89. I used the term related to discussion of the cc:Mail database and others just picked it up and used it as it sounded natural. I got credited with it’s “creation” within our group and I don’t remember ever hearing it used elsewhere. I actually thought it was a real word and just used it and everyone seemed to intuitively know what it meant and nobody ever questioned it’s validity except the writer on the team.

    The truly amusing part was it ended up in various design documents and people added it to their spell check dictionary as they assumed it was incomplete as we often added words, particularly technical terms.

    I think it’s long past overdue to being added to Webster’s little alphabetical list and I would definitely support any efforts to make it happen!

  39. I’d like to reiterate the point that performance is more than just fast or slow. Performance also includes throughput.
    Option A – “The Hare” might be very fast for one user, but throughput scales exponentially for additional users, so for 200 users it is unusable.
    Option B – “The Tortoise” is twice as slow as the Hare for one user, yet it performs at the same speed for 200 users.
    The Tortoise is performant. The Hare is not.

    Performant allows me to use a single word to encapsulate “it meets the performance requirements of the system”.

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