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Philosophy Quote of the Day

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Evolution of a Word

As some of you might know, I have been doing a blog series lately on under-appreciated words. However, in considering that topic and in the last few years, I have begun to notice the evolution of some words even in our modern society. Most people (myself included) think of a word's etymology as something carved in stone by the ancients or something written by Noah Webster with a quill pen by candlelight. Yet, I see the evidence of how words are transforming before our own eyes, taking on new connotations, definitions, and (in the case of which I am writing) a new part of speech. This may seem to be a very foreign concept to some especially those of us who have studied the Empiricist Theory of Meaning and know that words are only representations of ideas and ponder the complex relationship when either the definition or the idea it represents change. Although, this is a very profound (and somewhat troubling) notion that I have spent more time than I should have thinking about, I will use a somewhat humorous example to illustrate my point.

Let us consider the word "Facebook." While this is not a word that you will find listed in the pages of any well-respected dictionary, we can give it thorough analysis and see the evolution of a word very clearly. Let us first look at the traditional definition (if such a thing exists).

1. Facebook - (noun)
Etymology: English
Date: circa 2004

- A social-networking site created by Mark Zuckerberg where users can join networks organized by city, workplace, school, and region. People can also add friends and send them messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves.


Now, as silly as this may seem, is a harmless definition that most would consider to be an accurate description of the word. However, I find myself often using the word "facebook" in a different way and have heard others do the same. "Facebook" has expanded beyond the confines of noun-hood and entered the world of the active verb. No longer do I just "log in to Facebook" or "look at someones Facebook." Rather, I say that I will "Facebook that person" or ask someone have they "Facebooked so and so." While the word is related, you never hear of anyone "Myspacing" someone. Instead, you "send them a Myspace message." Yet, one would sound antiquated or out of touch if you used a similar phrase describing the process of sending someone a message via the Facebook social-networking site.

While this is a seemingly childish example, I think it illustrates my point well. In a world where many people fall short of the mastery of language and oftentimes even have trouble following the basic rules to express their ideas in a clear and concise fashion, what is one to do to keep up when the words we use can fundamentally change in such a short span of time. Granted this is a limited example, but you can see other examples all around you when you consider them.

So, to close, I will give you an old maxim that has been somewhat revised.

"Say what you mean, mean what you say, and make sure that what you think you are saying still means the same thing that you think it does."

- The Apprentice Philosopher

Monday, July 20, 2009

Under-Appreciated Words: Part 4

Here is the next part of my new series of words that don't get the attention they deserve or are used as much as I think they should be. Remember, just because a word may have a synonym doesn't mean that two words have the same definition or connotations. So, without further ado, today's installment:

4. Torpor \ˈtȯr-pər\ noun
Etymology:Middle English, from Latin, from torpēre
Date:13th century

-apathy, dullness

-a state of mental and motor inactivity with partial or total insensibility

-a state of lowered physiological activity typically characterized by reduced metabolism, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature that occurs in varying degrees especially in hibernating and estivating animals

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Under-Appreciated Words: Part 3

Here is the next part of my new series of words that don't get the attention they deserve or are used as much as I think they should be. Remember, just because a word may have a synonym doesn't mean that two words have the same definition or connotations. So, without further ado, today's installment:

3. Eschew \e-ˈshü, i-; es-ˈchü, is-; also e-ˈskyü\ transitive verb
Etymology:Middle English, from Anglo-French eschiver (3d present eschiu) of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German sciuhen to frighten off — more at shy
Date:14th century

-to avoid habitually especially on moral or practical grounds : shun

*I would like to point out my delight to hear Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor use this word during her confirmation hearings last week even though it was already next on my list of under-appreciated words.

Under-Appreciated Words: Part 2

Here is the second part of my new series of words that don't get the attention they deserve or are used as much as I think they should be. Remember, just because a word may have a synonym doesn't mean that two words have the same definition or connotations. So, without further ado, today's installment:



2. Snarky \ˈsnär-kē\ adjective
Etymology: dialect snark to annoy, perhaps alteration of nark to irritate
Date: 1906

-crotchety, snappish
-sarcastic, impertinent, or irreverent in tone or manner



*As I side not, I would like to point out the fact that my spell-check does not recognize the word "snarky" providing further proof that the word is vastly under-appreciated.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Under-Appreciated Words: Part 1

I have always been a fan of linguistics and etymology. I just believe that people should say what they mean and the most precise way to do that is to use specific words for specific meetings. Even though two words might be synonyms, they may carry totally different connotations. So, to assist some other people and to express my affection for some words, I am beginning a series of blogs highlighting words that I feel are vastly under-appreciated.

1.Queue \ˈkyü\ noun
Etymology: French, literally, tail, from Old French cue, coe, Latin cauda, coda
-a waiting line especially of persons or vehicles
-a sequence of messages or jobs held in temporary storage awaiting transmission or processing
-a data structure that consists of a list of records such that records are added at one end and removed from the other
-a hairstyle in which the hair is worn long and gathered up into a pigtail. It was worn traditionally by certain Native American groups, Indian Brahmins and the Manchu of Manchuria.