Life on Mars? (8 Jun, 2018)

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Life on Mars? (8 Jun, 2018)

Postby aardvark_admin » Fri Jun 08, 2018 8:42 am

This column is archived at: https://aardvark.co.nz/daily/2018/0608.shtml

Does the imprecision and ambiguity of the English language put us at a disadvantage in areas (such as science and technology) where accuracy is essential to robust progress?

Is the English language better suited to the arts than to the sciences?

In the context of NASA's press release, exactly what does "organic" mean?

And can you think of a word in the English language with more meanings than "set"??
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Re: Life on Mars? (8 Jun, 2018)

Postby latewings » Fri Jun 08, 2018 9:31 am

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/there-really-are-50-eskimo-words-for-snow/2013/01/14/e0e3f4e0-59a0-11e2-beee-6e38f5215402_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e700436a3530

English is not alone in having many multiple work meanings. However in response to 'set' nothing springs to mind.

Politician: N: From 'Poly' meaning 'many' and 'tician' from the french word 'tete' for head. Ergo Politician is a person with two or more faces.

The NASA revelation is not really surprising, even from a body as close as Mars is (which is almost at Opposition, time for some astrophotography). Given the bigness of the Universe even bodies in the Milky Way or out to the Local Group should have variants of life somewhere in them. Stars are great sources of heavier elements, so the building blocks are plentiful for orbiting bodies formed from gravitational pull to work on, especially those in the Goldilocks zones.
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Re: Life on Mars? (8 Jun, 2018)

Postby hagfish » Fri Jun 08, 2018 9:58 am

There's often a big gap between a scientist's or statistician's understanding of a word, and that of the general public. When a scientist uses a word like 'theory' or 'significant', they are picking very specific meanings of these words, that the public won't necessarily appreciate. There are lots of these words.

It's (everyone's and) no one's fault. The egg=heads need to appreciate that their pet word-meanings are confusing for the public. The public need to educate themselves. Those in between - the journos and comms people - need to help with the translation.

I think English is one of the better languages for the conveyance of meaning. The fact that we have so many homonyms just enhances the scope for puns.
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Re: Life on Mars? (8 Jun, 2018)

Postby Kiwiiano » Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:01 pm

Surely the whole point of having a journo or comms oil is that they supposed to be trained in nuances and translation. Why is that pink birdy up in the tree going “oink oink”?
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Re: Life on Mars? (8 Jun, 2018)

Postby Hiro Protagonist » Fri Jun 08, 2018 12:08 pm

aardvark_admin wrote:In the context of NASA's press release, exactly what does "organic" mean?

And can you think of a word in the English language with more meanings than "set"??

Well if you read the press release, it's pretty clear: "Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life."

And I think some of those meanings for 'set' make some dubious distinctions:

"2. to place in a particular position or posture: Set the baby on his feet."
"6. to put in the proper position: to set a chair back on its feet."
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Re: Life on Mars? (8 Jun, 2018)

Postby Muscular Jam » Sat Jun 09, 2018 11:56 am

Hiro Protagonist wrote:Well if you read the press release, it's pretty clear: "Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life."
Exactly. And if that is too hard for journos to wrap their head around NASA produced a pretty picture in their press-kit to explain it as well: Image
the previous version was even simpler:Image
As for limitations of the English language, its relaxed approach to gender and tense allow it to quickly incorporate useful words from other languages. That is why it has the largest vocabulary of any language and twice that of its closest rival (which is incidentally German).
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Re: Life on Mars? (8 Jun, 2018)

Postby Perry » Sat Jun 09, 2018 5:14 pm

Impreciseness is an art form, well developed by many who have bastardised-English as a mother-tongue.

The ultimate is embodied in this expression, supposedly proffered in answer to a question about something:

It was, like, yunno.

As a English comedian once said to USAmericans:

You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English
Dictionary. Then look up aluminium, and check the
pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how
wrongly you have been pronouncing it. The letter 'U' will
be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and 'neighbour.'

Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without
skipping half the letters, and the suffix -ize will be
replaced by the suffix -ise. Generally, you will be
expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels.
(look up vocabulary).

Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with
filler noises such as "like" and "yunno" is an unacceptable
and inefficient form of communication.

-excerpted from England Is Taking Back The Americas
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