Performant isn't a word

Last month I finished writing a lot of the "Performance" chapter for our ASP.NET book. I used the word performant quite a bit, and was a little surprised when the editorial review told me that performant isn't a word.

I didn't believe it, but after some checking I was forced to agree: 

It's not in the dictionary:

It's not in the Google definitions:

It's not even in Wikipedia:

Looks like we need to let the scholars know - there are 18,300 uses of the non-word "performant" in scholarly papers:


  • Performant is a horrible, fake word that should never be spoken again.

    But then again, so is "blog".

  • That's almost as annoying as "deplane"

  • WikiPedia has an entry for it now... =) Does make you wonder about the source of information on the "social internet" doesn't it? Any old fool like me can go create an entry for a made up word....

  • I have seen some definitions of the word performant but described the word as meaning a performer in the sense of a person who takes place in a performance.

    I agree it's an ugly word and should be banned, I'm also sure I've read elsewhere somebody deploring the use of the word.


  • Yes, Performant is a word .. it is a French adjective that mean Powerful.
    In France, it is not an horrible word as Jeff wrote, perharps in United States ;))

  • Given that robotics wasn't a word until Asimov invented it, I'd say this isn't a big problem :)

  • 3GPP has just discovered that it is not a word too. But that "performative" is.

    Actually, since "performant" seems to obey most of the rules of word formation in English, I can see no justifyable reason why it should not be a perfectly valid word. Even if it is horrible.

  • There are 2 approaches to what makes a word a word, descriptive and prescriptive.

    The descriptivists take the view that if you use it and people understand it, then it's a word, irregardless of whether it appears in a dictionary or not.

  • A few words about words...

    The fact that there are 18,300 uses of the word 'performant' within scholarly papers says that the word is a useful part of the living English language that may well be appearing in future editions of respected dictionaries.

    I once read the front of a large hard backed Oxford English dictionary that explained how the latest edition of the dictionary had been compiled. It explained how new words were added and why old words had been removed.

    The process started with compiling a corpus of words commonly used within a wide (but arbitrary) set of publications. Common words that are not in the current dictionary are given definitions that are then effectively ordained to be official and are added into the new dictionary. Note that it is the definition of the word, not the word, that has to be agreed and approved, before the word is a candidate to be added to the new edition of the dictionary.

    Whether a word gets to print within the dictionary clearly depends on how many pages the publication house wants to put in the given edition, be it a pocket edition, standard edition, or so called 'complete' edition. So I word needs to have both an ordained definition and to be considered economically viable by the publisher before it appears on your shelf.

    Compiling a dictionary and selling enough copies to make a profit before the next edition takes time. This means that every dictionary on the bookshelf lags behind it's own corpus. No actual corpus can be complete only sufficient for the publishers purpose (which is usually profit). Every dictionary lags behind the 'ideal corpus' of commonly used words of the millions of publications in the English speaking world.

    This leads us to conclude that a dictionary explains the words used within the living English language and does not itself define the living English language.

    A dictionary is a useful guide to the agreed definitions of some, but clearly not all, words in the English language. So it is useful as a tool to avoid ambiguity within your own publications and help ensure that you are clearly understood. Personally I see no ambiguity nor issues in comprehension with the word 'performant' used in a software engineering article. Thats only my opinion as a practitioner within that discipline. Your mileage may vary.

    The English language is still growing and evolving and long may it continue to do so. Please do tell your editor the good news!

  • Just caught me out, I was about to get all Samuel Johnson-ish but will efface this from my vocabulary. For me it's watching to many American Screen-casts, but that's just like the word closure, which is in widespead use now.

  • Performant - as useful as lacrimation and all those other useless words! Bizarre considering just how flexible the English language is, that we have to bastardise words in such a manner - natural progression of a word is fine, but such flagrant mis-use shows just how lazy the writer is!

  • At the risk of stoking encouraging This looks like a topic that would run and run - but Iwithout a this IMHO this is an example of how new words can detract from the English language, or any language. Take a word that's now well accepted: interface. My father was an English teacher and he was very amused by this word, thinking it was an absurd concoction - and after thinking about it I'm inclined to agree. Compare it with with words like connector, transition, boundary, protocol - is there really a new concept here, or is it just new word for old concepts? There's no law against using whatever words they like - you could say "middle-thing" instead of interface (or connector) if you think it makes more sense, but I wouldn't start thinking about the nobel prize for literature. For me, "performant" is closer to "middle-thing" than "interface" - a horrible confused word. Repeat: a horridic disclear sillymeaning lettersthing.

  • Be a renegade linguist, performant is a great word. use it!

  • Half of everything that Shakespeare said weren't real words and the OED cites their appearance in his works. Performant is not in use, some dictionaries now cite it and the OED does or will do so very soon. New words enter the lexicon regularly and it is through use like this that it happens. It is especially important for words like this without direct synonym to enter the lexicon as they fill a void in the language.

  • Could it be that engineers lacking spelling skills tried to spell "performance" as "performants" and then what looked like a plural was then reduced to the singular "performant"? This is highly possible, at least with some of the engineers I have known.

  • Sorry, I have to agree with your editors. Performant is definitely not a word. I had to sit through a 2-hour demo at a Microsoft Technet session where the speaker kept on saying 'performant' and it was soooo annoying that I almost left the room.

  • "The system is less performant during times of high stress, as its efficient design leaves little to no margin of available processing capability."

    "The system performs poorly during times of high stress, as its efficient design leaves little to no available processing margin."

    I know it's been a long time since you asked, but mine seems more easily understood without the need fro a neologism.

  • Nothing is more fun to watch than a battle of cunning linguists.

  • "The system performs poorly during times of high stress, as its efficient design leaves little to no available processing margin."

    I dont think this is equivalent to the one using "Performant". "Less Performant" does not necessarily mean "performs poorly".

  • Let's make it a "real" word: Use it. Put it in your blogs and books. If the president of the United States (thinking of Bush in particular ;-) can add words to the language by making mistakes, then we can add useful and commonly used words too.

    I say that our systems, blogs and books will be more performant if we use this word more often in them! Let's start a movement to bring performant "into the fold" as an official word! ;->

  • The system performance declines during times of high stress...

  • Performant is a word. The reason is because it's used by a lot of people, and people know what you mean when you use it. The dictionaries will have have to catch up. If you think for a second it won't happen, think again. Mark my words -- in 10 years, it's in Webster's

    It's also a word 'cause when I get the that red spelling-error line in Word, I right click on it and add it to the dictionary. :)

  • Not a word. If the definition is 'effective', or 'performs well', why not use either of them?

    Can anyone explain why 'onload' and 'offload' replaced 'load' and 'unload'? Is this MilSpeak?

  • Performant is *not* a word. As I type this, Firefox agrees and puts a red line under the non-word "performant."

    If it's a word, it is only a weasel word. It means anything the speaker wants it to mean but does not commit the speaker to anything.

    For example, if you call your software fast, critics can easily say, "No it isn't!" Calling it "performant" implies fast but doesn't technically mean anything. So critics have no good way to respond, while gullible listeners get the implication that the software is fast.

  • (speaking to the sense of the word "performant" which is something like 'performs well')

    why is it horrible? that seems to be the consensus here, but i just don't get it. is the arrangement of letters aesthetically unappealing? does it offend your moral sense? does it do a bad job?

    in computing there are many metrics of performance and sometimes i want to refer to them all at once with just one word. or, perhaps i want to express that 'it performs well where it counts.' so what else should i be saying that is equally terse?

  • Awesome that this blog post is currently the #1 hit on google for "performant."

  • The problem with "performant" is that it is lazy language - as the posts here indicate, it means too many things: meets spec; efficient; fast. The fact that it has multiple meanings means that any sentence using it is inherently ambiguous. The "during times of high stress" example just proves the point - apparently different posters here have different ideas of what "less performant" means in that context.

    Why not just use the existing word or phrase that already has a precise meaning?

  • It *is* a word in the strictest definition. Its a string of letters used as a single entity and takes its place in sentences.

    That doesn't stop it from being bloody awful.

    These are also awful:

  • No idea if it's a real word or not but it did appear in the 1987 movie "Dragnet"

    P.A.G.A.N. = People Against Goodness And Normalcy

  • Irregarless and horatious aren't words because they have a correct alternative. Performant, on the other hand, is a new word because its meaning is not defined by an existing word. (a system's performance under load--as I understand it)

  • Performant is a French word, and, is ok to use foreign words (or their abbreviations) in English, e.g. exempli gratia.

  • It's a perfectly cromulent word.

  • I think "cunning linguist" is more entertaining than the worries of this blog thread.

  • Performant isn't a word... yet. Language only became what it is today because people created new things. And if the right adjective for perform* isn't yet in use, it's about time we created it. So there.

  • Interestingly, "performant" is also used in German, although it's not a German word, either.

    Perhaps it's one of those words that Germans invented from English (cf. "Handy", "Mobbing") and was then adopted back into English.

    Sounds odd in any case.

  • Wow.
    Three years later still arguing about it.

  • It's a word and I'm about to use it in a presentation. I'm pretty sure my audience will understand it, which makes it good enough for my purposes. (Those who think language should be prescriptive can bitch all they like about it not being in the dictionary yet, if they want to speak a prescriptive language we can do business in French, and I'll use the word performant anyway.)

    For the record, the context is "our customers require a performant system". The criteria aren't specific and to try use more precise language would give an incorrect sense of what is at the moment an imprecise objective.

    To me this is as valid as the phrase "driving slowly" - depending on the context that could mean different things. Yes, we could specify "driving at 5mph" if we wanted to be precise, but that doesn't mean a more general "driving slowly" isn't perfectly acceptable.

  • I too was surprised is wasn't a word, having heard it spoken so many times!

    I settled on "responsive" in the end!

  • Yahoo uses "performance" within its 'Help' files for its open source YUI Library; I find this annoying.

    I appreciate your blog entry. Perhaps with more writing conformance, we will slowly clean-up the web's content, while writing more appropriately going forward. Due to the shear volume of content on the web, I believe its necessary for most, if not all, professional and amateur authors to do their best to use applicable grammar and punctuation.

    I work hard to write my best, and I learn to become a better writer each day. I do not write for a living--thank goodness for you poor souls reading this now--but I believe it simply makes sense to write well when I do put words-to-paper, so-to-speak. This includes all forms of communique: email, facsimile (does anyone use the official term anymore?), memos, reports, blogs, articles, white papers, help files, etc.

    I agree with Steve F.: "responsive" is an acceptable substitute in appropriate instances.

  • well I bet conformant wasn't word..and now it seems to be ... and as others have said I think it useful when you must convey an undefined but relative level of performance...precision as others have griped about can be a problem if thing being discussed doesn't conform easily to the precision

  • After wasting my time reading this blog I am left with no idea or too many ideas of what the bloody word is intended to mean in English - evidently its a bit of jargon that means exactly what the author intends in whatever context the author chooses to use it but communicates very little to anyone other than the author. Kudos for your performant.

  • Someone asked

    "Then tell me, oh great community of all knowing linguists, what word should I use in place of performant in the following sentence. Keep in mind it must convey the same meaning, unambiguously, as well as be succinct."

    "The system is less performant during times of high stress, as its efficient design leaves little to no margin of available processing capability."

    "should I say "The system performs at a lower level during times ..." or "The system has a reduced performance during times ..." ???"

    In your case, the nonsense word "performant" is being used to actually provide LESS clarity. In what way is the performance reduced? Is it slower? Is it less accurate? Does it consume more fule? If so, say so.

    "The system is slower." Sounds good to me.

  • so interesting thoughts. I am a technical guy and I was just writing up a set of requirements, tasks, objectives, etc for a new system. I caught myself using the word "performant". In my context it means more than just fast. Performant in this context refers to good system resource utilization(low memory usage, low cpu usage) and it runs fast. Instead of having to spell all that out I can just say "performant".

    Sure in english you could get rid of all the fancy word, complicated words, words you dont feel like using, etc. and reduce our language to the lowest common denominator.

    But then I would have to write serveral sentences to describe what I can do with a single word. Performant.

    Also to respond to the previous post just because the system is less performant does not necessarily mean its "slow". Might mean the system resources are too high and its slower than it should be.

    As for not communicating any meaning, thats just because you either do not understand the context (super important in any language) or no one has ever provided to you a clear explaination of what Performant means.

    I think it needs some official meaning something along the lines of Performant, something that meets all the necessary requirements to be considered something that performs well.

    I think the complexity is its not a word that simply replaces the word fast. In a given context there could be many requirements for something (like a system, component, etc) to be considered performant.

    I sure like it better than having to say I need this component to be fast, and use less memory and use less cpu and not flood the network and not use too much IO and not take long to startup or shutdown. Instead I just say it needs to be performant and all the other engineers understands exactly what it means.

  • I believe the valid technical usage of the term performant is when a systen does not MEET _requirements_, so the example given is vague to those who don't know this new term:
    "The system is less performant during times of high stress, as its efficient design leaves little to no margin of available processing capability."
    I would limit the usage as in the above example sentence to cases where you could add what part of it's performance is not good enough.
    "The system is less performant during times of high stress, as its efficient design leaves little to no margin of available processing capability. ... Testing with the required load of 2000 page hits per second, the average user page update rate was reduced below the required .5 seconds, peaking as high as 1.5 seconds. ..."
    In fact, I might argue it should mostly be used an adjective
    "The system is not performant during ..." meaning it did not perform to the requirements

  • Doh isn't a word but it is finally in the dictionaries. Keep using performant and eventually the scholars will add it to the books. Keep in mind...the dictionary did not exist prior to the first caveword...Oogah!















  • Who cares if it's in the dictionary or not. The bottom line is, when I talk to stakeholders of any level they all understand what I mean.

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