Here’s where I attempt to revive and popularize a fine old word in a new context.
hieratic, adj. Of or concerning priests; priestly. Often used of the ancient Egyptian writing system of abridged hieroglyphics used by priests.
Earlier today I was criticizing the waf build system in email. I wanted to say that its documentation exhibits a common flaw, which is that it reads not much like an explanation but as a memory aid for people who are already initiates of its inner mysteries. But this was not the main thrust of my argument; I wanted to observe it as an aside.
Here’s what I ended up writing:
waf notation itself relies on a lot of aspect-like side effects and spooky action at a distance. It has much poorer locality and compactness than plain Makefiles or SCons recipes. This is actually waf’s worst downside, other perhaps than the rather hieratic documentation.
I was using “hieratic” in a sense like this:
hieratic, adj. Of computer documentation, impenetrable because the author never sees outside his own intimate knowledge of the subject and is therefore unable to identify or meet the expository needs of newcomers. It might as well be written in hieroglyphics.
Hieratic documentation can be all of complete, correct, and nearly useless at the same time. I think we need this word to distinguish subtle disasters like the waf book – or most of the NTP documentation before I got at it – from the more obvious disasters of documentation that is incorrect, incomplete, or poorly written simply considered as expository prose.