Two recent Pearls Before Swine strips:
Archive for the ‘Technical and ordinary language’ Category
Passed on to me by Sim Aberson, this NPR story of February 6th, “Woolly Mammoths’ Taste For Flowers May Have Been Their Undoing” by Geoff Brumfiel, beginning:
They were some of the largest, hairiest animals ever to walk the Earth, but new research shows a big part of the woolly mammoth’s diet was made up of tiny flowers.
The work is based on DNA analysis of frozen arctic soil and mammoth poop. It suggests that these early vegans depended on the flowers as a vital source of protein. And when the flowers disappeared after the last ice age, so too did the mammoths that ate them.
Today’s Dilbert takes up the definition of technical terms:
Wikipedia on “open source” will give you some sense of the problem.
Spring and early summer are the blooming seasons for the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, which blankets fields and hillsides (and open spaces on the Stanford campus) in yellow and orange:
The compound California poppy is subsective: a California poppy is a poppy — as the word poppy is used in ordinary English, and in fact as it is used by botanists speaking informally. So California poppy contrasts maximally with California lilac, which is not a lilac in the eyes of ordinary speakers or botanists; California lilac is a resembloid compound rather than a subsective one. Daylily presents an intermediate case: it’s not subsective for botanists or for many ordinary speakers — for these people, a daylily is not a lily — but it is for some ordinary speakers.
Heard in television ads for cancer treatment centers, the phrase investigational drugs. From an FDA site on “Access to Investigational Drugs”:
Investigational or experimental drugs are new drugs that have not yet been approved by the FDA or approved drugs that have not yet been approved for a new use, and are in the process of being tested for safety and effectiveness.
This passage treats investigational and experimental as synonyms in the drug context — but then the site goes on to use investigational exclusively. This specialized use of investigational (as opposed to the transparent general use ‘of or relating to investigations’) seems to be fairly recent — recent enough that it’s not in the dictionaries I’ve consulted. It seems to have replaced experimental as the appropriate technical term for drugs undergoing testing, perhaps because some people in the relevant community had come to feel that experimental no longer sounded sufficiently technical, but had become part of ordinary language.
A One Big Happy that came by me recently:
Two (at least) different senses of the adjective average here: ‘at the statstical mean’ vs. ‘ordinary’ or ‘typical’. So Joe could be right.
Comments on my posting on penultimate (in penultimate Frisbee) took three directions: a comic association with antepenultimate; complaints about a relatively recent non-standard use of penultimate (to mean ‘absolutely final, absolutely the best’); and complaints about using ultimate and unique and other so-called “non-gradable” adjectives as gradables (modifiable by degree adverbials).
Yesterday’s Dilbert, in which Dilbert confronts his pointy-headed boss:
I’m sorry to say that gamification (a verbing in -ify from the noun game) is not some twisted invention of Scott Adams’s. And then there’s the question of what counts as garbage.