Carbon dating

Today’s Dilbert is the latest in a series about a new worker in the office, a dinosaur in more senses than one:

Ouch: two senses of the verb date, one used here in a back-formed verb.

The two senses, the first two (boldfaced here) of the three from this NOAD2 entry for the verb [with obj.]:

1 establish or ascertain the date of (an object or event): they date the paintings to 1460–70.

mark with a date: sign and date the document.

[no obj.] have its origin at a particular time; have existed since: the controversy dates back to 1986.

2 indicate or expose as being old-fashioned: disco — that word alone dates me.

[no obj.] seem old-fashioned: a movie that will date quickly.

3 go out with (someone in whom one is romantically or sexually interested): my sister’s pretty judgmental about the girls I date | [no obj.] they have been dating for more than a year.

As a further complication, date-1 in the cartoon is used in the two-part back-formed verb to carbon date ‘to use carbon dating to ascertain a date’. On carbon dating, from Wikipedia:

Radiocarbon dating [carbon dating for short] is a method of determining the age of an object by using the properties of radiocarbon, a radioactive isotope of carbon. The method was invented by Willard Libby in the late 1940s and soon became a standard tool for archaeologists. It depends on the fact that radiocarbon, often abbreviated as 14C, is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide. This is then incorporated into plants by photosynthesis, and animals acquire 14C by eating the plants. When the animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, and from that point the amount of 14C it contains begins to reduce as the 14C undergoes radioactive decay. Measuring the amount of 14C in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as piece of old wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.

And on the Anthropocene (again from Wikipedia):

The Anthropocene is an informal geologic chronological term for the proposed epoch that began when human activities had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. The term, which appears to have been used by Russian scientists at least as early as the 1960s to refer to the Quaternary – the most recent geological Period, was coined with a different sense in the 1980s by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer and has been widely popularized by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch for its lithosphere.

Previously on this blog: a Scenes From a Multiverse cartoon with another pun involving carbon dating, this time with date in sense 3 (‘go out with’) as well as sense 1.

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