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A non-scientific note on semantics



---"King, Norm" <nking.ucs@smtp.usi.edu> wrote:

>You're redefining the 
> word, which is fine for cladists, but who's gonna catch up the rest of
> the world?

Interestingly, and a bit surprisingly, this has developed (or, I
guess, has always been) a debate about semantics and the popular value
of scientific terms.  

Well, science is not the only discipline to face this challenge.

For an interesting demonstration of this, review the changing meaning
of the word "freedom" in European history since the second great
Germanic migration in the fifth century A.D. What the word meant to a
Roman citizen, say, someone of Gallic origin living in Narbonensis,
would have differed considerably from the meaning as understood by
someone living in the same area in Capetian France centuries later and
would ahve differed yet again from the meaning given it by a
nineteenth century Frenchman.  These meanings are incredibly divergant
and even in total opposition.

Greatly simplified:

Roman/early medieval: relationship to another's ownership rights in
land;

later medieval: living under the Grace of God;

Current: ability to choose and then remove governmental
representatives and sovereign immunity from certain governmental
activities.

Very different, even opposed concepts.  

If you choose to reduce it to simply "not having something bad to
worry about," removing the "something" makes the word devoid of its
stand-alone value, and defeats the purpose of the exercise. 

No need to invent a new word because our understanding of the old word
has changed.  As long as the old word was worth retaining by the
people to whom the word had the most demanding descriptive value,
others kept up.  We're flexible that way as a species.  Don't fight
human nature.


==
Larry

"In our youths, our hearts were touched with fire."
--Oliver Wendell Holmes

http://members.tripod.com/~megalania/index.html

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