Words-worth: Agnostic

Are you platform or device agnostic? The Greeks might not agree...

by John Morrish
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

In the world of IT, if something is 'agnostic', it is not limited to a particular technology. Programs can be 'platform agnostic', meaning they'll run on numerous different operating systems. Websites and apps can be 'device agnostic', meaning they'll work on computers, phones and different makes of tablets.

But outside IT, marketing people can be 'channel agnostic', meaning they don't favour TV, online, mobile or whatever. In each case, 'agnostic' is used to mean something akin to 'indifferent' or 'neutral'.

But this is not what the word means. It was coined in 1869 by TH Huxley, who based it on the Ancient Greek agnostos, meaning 'unknown' or 'unknowable'.

People think that agnostics are people who 'don't know' whether there's a God or not. But to be agnostic is to profess that the existence of God is not something that can be known. But people have been getting it wrong almost from the start, especially in the US, where the word is often used to mean 'non-partisan' or 'uncommitted'.

The IT crowd picked up on that: and these days agnosticism is their religion.

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