I signed the Hope Accord.

"I pulled my brain"

Proposal for a non-mental health-related phrase meaning "I need a rest" in the software industry

On a soccer team, each person uses their strength and energy to achieve a shared goal. A software team can be viewed through a similar lens, with the main muscle used being the brain.

When a member of the soccer team pulls a muscle in their leg, they have access to a very clear and succinct phrase that conveys the following information:

  • I’ve sustained a minor injury.
  • I will very likely be healed and back to normal function very soon, but:
    • Any playing or training I did now would obviously be counterproductive.
  • There may be a particular reason this happened, or it may just be the convergence of chance factors.
  • This very likely has no bearing on my long-term enthusiasm for the team.

The phrase is of course “I’ve pulled a muscle in my leg”, and it works because everyone on the team has had it happen to them before and it’s generally understood to be a random and transient setback.

Everyone on the software team has had the analagous situation happen to them: their brain has temporarily run low on one or more of the ingredients of programming productivity, and the best thing for them to do is have a few days’ rest immediately.

In the software case, however, we don’t seem to have landed on a good phrase for it yet. The problem seems to be that any mention of the brain or mental state can’t help but evoke mental health, which is in turn bound up with an element of mystery, chronicness, and intractability.

When it last happened to me, I landed on the following two phrases:

  • it was a bit of a slow day yesterday[…], and
  • I’m feeling a bit drained today.

The first one of these makes no direct reference at all to the fact that there’s a problem, and the second one is also overly vague, tangential, and implies the possibility of a separate underlying issue.

I don’t know what I could have used instead, barring a pre-agreed phrase as I propose here. “Tired” would have been a straightforward way to put it, I suppose, but that seems even more suggestively euphemistic than the others. (Or perhaps too blunt: “I didn’t do anything yesterday because I was tired. What are you going to do about it?“)