Daily Archives: March 6, 2007

Words Have Meaning

I know that it doesn’t surprise anyone that an English teacher would get steamed over the mis-use of words. I mean, words are literally my bread and butter. But it’s only when words are mis-used in the attempt to mis-lead that I really get mad. Anyone can mispronounce “mischievous” around me, or use the would “irregardless” in a sentence. But I don’t like the abuse of language to communicate a political or religious agenda.

For instance: A Civil War is a war between two factions fighting for control of the same country. That’s why I refer to the war in the United States that took place between 1861 – 1865 as “The War Between the States”. They were not fighting for control of the same country, they were trying to secede and form a whole new country. Another acceptable title is “The War of Succession.” Words have meanings. We should use them properly.So I was reading this article about a missing chunk of the earth’s crust. It contains this sentence:

Experts describe the hole along the mid-Atlantic ridge as an “open wound” on the ocean floor that has puzzled scientists for the five or so years that its existence has been known because it defies existing tectonic plate theories of evolution.

This hole in the ocean defies tectonic plate theory?

Defy means: To oppose or resist with boldness and assurance; To refuse to submit to or cooperate with. (The Free Dictionary.com)

Theory means: A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena. (not a great definition, but sufficient for our purposes) (The Free Dictionary.com)

Here’s where the mis-use of language comes in:

An inanimate hole cannot participate in an active resistance against a theory of which it cannot be aware. The hole exists. It is fact. That its presence calls into question an unproved theory does not constitute “opposition” or “resistance.” In fact, it would be far more correct to say that to continue to hold to the theory of plate tectonics defies the proved absence of crust. By making the statement that the existence of this hole “defies existing tectonic plate theories of evolution” implies that plate tectonics has been proved, and therefore assumes that this hole must be unnatural. And that is, in fact, the basic premise on which most of the scientists studying this phenomenon are basing their research.

“If the hole disagrees with us, it must be wrong.” What a dangerous assumption to make. These same men who would laughingly mock the cultures of Copernicus and Galileo for assuming that anyone who taught contrary to their presuppositions and theories was a threat to society, operate on the same premise today.

I am certainly not saying the plate tectonic theory is wrong. What I am saying is that a true scientist would first consider this natural occurrence to trump his theory until he had adequately studied it. These men who are priests of just another religion, consider the theory to trump the observable fact, just as the men who condemned Galileo did.

And all of that came from vocabulary and grammar. The devil is truly in the details.