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Iff You See Her Say Hello

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I doubt I’m improperly disclosing too much about my work to tell that I was recently involved on a project that included discussion about whether a piece of emerging regulatory guidance might want to use the word “iff.” In the sense of the second definition stated at my link given here: the mathematical term of art. I had to smile: one of my favorite hobbies involves collecting iffs.

We were joking about collapsing it down to the bare bone for our regulatory document. But did engage in a brief discussion about whether the expanded phrase — “if and only if” — was …, shall we say, necessary and sufficient?

“Johnny, you may go outside to play if and only if you first clean your room,” chides Mom.

Mom is giving Johnny two combined, but distinctly different conditions —

  1. Sufficient – the “if” part. Nothing else is required, even if Johnny does have other unfinished chores, even if he doesn’t finish cleaning his room until after 2am, even if Dad comes along and says something different. Cleaning his room is sufficient, all that is required. If Johnny cleans his room, then he can go outside to play. Ah, but Mom knows Johnny is a wisecracker who thinks to himself, “Yes, if I clean my room, I can go play, but Mom is forgetting all the other doors and windows and tunnels that can get me to the same place, like if I butter her up first, then I can go play without even touching my room. So although cleaning my room is sufficient to get me there, is it necessary?…” So Mom the Mathematician give a complete instruction…
     
  2. Necessary – the “only if” part. Cleaning his room is required. There is no other way to get to the same destination, only by doing what has been commanded. Ah, but some might think Mom is overdoing it for effect, that she could accomplish the same instruction by saying only “only if,” without beating Johnny over the head with that naggish “if and only if.” But no, if she were to say nothing but “only if,” then poor Johnny might discover to his chagrin that cleaning his room, while necessary, was not sufficient, that after he has come back and reported to Mom that he has cleaned his room and now wants her to inspect it so he can go outside to play, alas he might find out the hard way that necessity does not necessarily convey sufficiency, as Mom might by then have found other chores for him to perform before playtime.

So as pretentious as it might sound in our formal regulatory guidance, we do really mean it like we will be saying it: “if and only if….” Iff you know what I mean.

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Written by macheide

15 November 2014 at 5:44 am

Posted in deskjob

Tagged with , , ,

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