On the Meanings of Words

A negative cold shines the dish.  How does the grey champagne suspect underneath the boss?  The paper malfunctions under the resident.

Understood?

Of course not.  If someone said they understood the point I was trying to get across above, I’d call them a liar to their face… or perhaps tell them to lay off the psychotropic drugs.

Now the above uses English words, but they arranged in a way that makes no sense.  The meanings of the words don’t combine correctly in the order presented.  It’s a confusing muddle.

Sometimes, just one word being used in an unusual way can create trouble.  Consider this sentence.

Please put the groceries in the boot.

Now, if you’re in my area, you might be thinking about putting the groceries in the fireman’s boot as they do a fundraiser.  But, if you are British, well, ‘boot’ is the common word for what we call the ‘trunk’ of a car.  This isn’t that big a deal, because BBC is pretty popular in the states now.

But it shows how even common words can be confusing.  One more example.

If I said, “I saw a huge blackbird.”  What did I see?

hmmm… they are all black, they are all birds.  What’s more is that, within the region they inhabit, they are all called ‘blackbirds’.[1]

Scientists deal with confusion by using a naming system called ‘binomial nomenclature’.  Which, translated from Latin’ literally means “two-name naming system”.  Every organism so far discovered has a unique name in this system and no two organisms can have the same name.

That way, no matter who is talking, every scientist everywhere knows which organism is being discussed.

Now, there is a similar problem with certain groups.  They, maliciously and insidiously change the meaning of words and will sometimes even do so in the same discussion or even the same sentence or paragraph.  They will do this without informing you they are doing it.

This may give you a mistaken impression about the topic under discussion.  This may cause confusion.  Of course, for people who do this, making these ‘errors’ is the whole point.  The point is not to provide accurate, unambiguous discussion.  The point is to win.

To win what, I’m not sure.  Politicians do it to win votes or confuse opponents.  It’s actually a perfectly valid debating tactic.  Unfortunately, the real world is not a debate club.

Global warming deniers will use it to discuss ‘the trick’, which is a mathematical modification to old data to make it align with modern data.

Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents will discuss ‘critical analysis’, ‘information’, ‘complexity’ and the like.  Without ever quite defining them in a way that is completely unambiguous.

All of these groups, when the discussion ends up with them being hammered on the reality of what they are talking about, they will suddenly switch definitions of words.  Then you have to go through the whole thing again.  Then they switch again.  Repeat until one of you gets bored (hint, it won’t be the creationist, politician, or global warming denier)>

There are lots of instances of this in the various forums.  A recent example has been brought to my attention.  And I may be slightly at fault, but instead of just asking for clarification, a creationist took some of my information and misdirected about the way I phrased it and then claimed I didn’t define it, when I did in the preceding paragraph.

The problem comes from this post.  In it, I discuss the concepts of directed and undirected evolution.

You see, in the common parlance, ‘directed’ usually means someone, some person, guided a process to completion.  “The policeman directed traffic.”

However, it this instance, I meant that the process was occurring in a direction.

When selection acts on a population, the result is a change in the allele frequency.  One allele is reducing in frequency while another is increasing in frequency.  That is, the evolution is proceeding in a particular direction, away from one allele and towards another.  Directed.

In terms of some one or some thing ‘directing’ the process, there isn’t one.  At least one that has never been found in decades of looking.  In terms of the process moving in one ‘direction’ of another, then it is.

One thing one should consider when discussing or reading from anyone (like this blog, other blogs, political speeches, ect.) is, what is going on with the writer, speaker.  Are they dealing with concepts, explaining themselves, and using language correctly or are they arguing about semantics (what words mean) and ignoring the actual topic under discussion.

Just something to keep in mind.

______________________________________________

[1]  The top is the Greater Antillean Grackle (Quisalus niger).  Middle is the Common blackbird (Turdus merula).  Bottom is the Carrion Crow (Corvus corone).  Just in case anyone is curious.

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