Re: Uppercase question for RFC2119 words

Lee Howard <> Wed, 30 March 2016 14:54 UTC

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Date: Wed, 30 Mar 2016 10:54:43 +0100
Subject: Re: Uppercase question for RFC2119 words
From: Lee Howard <>
To: IETF Discussion <>
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Thread-Topic: Uppercase question for RFC2119 words
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On 3/28/16, 3:09 PM, "ietf on behalf of Barry Leiba"
< on behalf of> wrote:

>> The wishy washy descriptive rather than proscriptive language in the
>>abstract was because I,
>> the IESG and the community were not of one mind to say that the use of
>>such capitalized
>> terms should be mandatory - quite a few people felt that the english
>>language was at
>> least good enough to convey  the writer¹s intent without having to
>>aggrandize specific words.
>> Thus the abstract basically was saying: if you want to use capitalized
>>words here is a standard
>> way to say what they mean
>Ah.  Then perhaps the clarification needs to go a little further and
>make this clear:
>- We're defining specific terms that specifications can use.

³can² = ³MAY²?

>- These terms are always capitalized when these definitions are used.

³are always² = ³MUST²?

>- You don't have to use them.  If you do, they're capitalized and
>their meanings are as specified here.
>- There are similar-looking English words that are not capitalized,
>and they have their normal English meanings; this document has nothing
>to do with them.

Gee, I thought rfc2119 was to say, ³These words have their normal English

>...and I'd like to add one more, because so many people think that
>text isn't normative unless it has 2119 key words in all caps in it:
>- Normative text doesn't require the use of these key words.  They're
>used for clarity and consistency when you want that, but lots of
>normative text doesn't need to use them, and doesn't use them.

I like rfc2119 for specifying protocols, because it very clearly describes
what MUST be implemented for interoperability to work, what SHOULD be done
for it to work well or as expected, and what MAY also be included.
However, I run into lots of cases with documents that are not intended for
Standards Track where people tell me I¹m not allowed to use the English
language because the IETF has defined it otherwise.[1]

I love the English language. It has a beautiful irregularity and dynamism
that gives it a richness rare among other languages. Romance languages
have grace, Mandarin has a melody, Japanese has an appealing order, German
has flexibility, but English is a strong mutt.

Let us not define jargon such that we raise barriers to contributing or
comprehending internet-drafts. The words ³should,² ³may,² and ³must² are
natural English. When necessary for normative protocol language, we should
[2] specify that we mean them in their rfc2119 sense, and may [3]
capitalize them. In the absence of text saying ³I mean rfc2119,² they have
natural English language meanings.


[1] To say nothing of rfc6919
[2] rfc2219 MUST
[3] rfc2119 MAY