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bit of a "duh" moment - silver Harloe

About bit of a "duh" moment

Previous Entry bit of a "duh" moment Sep. 18th, 2007 @ 07:15 am Next Entry
I just realized something, which I feel now that I always should have known.

I used to think I was "just a pedant" and that the fact that I find it funny to play the "straight man" to jokes and take things literally even when they are meant metaphorically was an odd quirk of mine, just a sort of social problem.

Like yesterday afternoon, I was having a bit of discussion with my co-worker (distinctly not a cow-orker) about whether a variation of a scavenger hunt which involves photographing things could properly be called scavenging. Too much literalism, right?*

However, this morning I realized, for no particular reason, that a fairly serviceable definition of my job is to take the vague things people say they want, and express them literally. Which is when I said, "duh". My pedantry and my quirky sense of humor are just by-products of the kind of thinking that makes me good at my job. Or maybe they're causes rather than effects, but, either way, they're not so confusing now that I see how tightly integrated they are with the rest of me. Which has the great psychological benefit that now I feel less embarrassed about some discussions I've had, such as the one yesterday :).

* Incidentally, I conceded the argument based on the fact that somewhere along the line, "scavenger hunt" become merely etymologically related to the word "scavenge" but had a meaning of its own. He also demonstrated that the dictionary definition of "scavenge" involved the collection of worthless "objects" and said "digital pictures are objects," which I could argue against, but didn't choose to since I had already lost on another front.
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From:lexicat
Date:September 18th, 2007 03:42 pm (UTC)
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People only care about communicating, not technical definitions of words as they happened to be written down by Webster 100 years ago. People understand that when I say "photo scavenger hunt" it means "photos of scavenged objects" and not "scavenging for photos", so I could care less if you can't get a combination of definitions from the dictionary to mean what I intend. After my use of the words becomes common enough, the definitions are what will change.

Similarly, no one cares if the definition of "object" references a "material thing". Especially us OOPL programmers, but pretty much the general public, at this point. Abstraction and metaphor are some of human's greatest talents.

Pedantry is exhausting, and I know you're smart enough to be able to separate your natural work talents from your social talents, and social enough to find something more interesting to talk about.
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From:litch
Date:September 18th, 2007 04:40 pm (UTC)
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I really wish more people would get this. The definition of a word is what we agree for it to be.
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From:litch
Date:September 18th, 2007 04:24 pm (UTC)
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aspbergers much?

another venue where painful literalism and pedanticism is a boon (and which tends to pay a hell of a lot better than bitflipping) is lawyership

of course you have to interact with lawyers all day long and that's corrosive to the soul
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 18th, 2007 07:34 pm (UTC)

but that doesn't mean..

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you can't fight back when you think a word is being misused. Obviously 20 years ago 'scavenger hunt' didn't mean "taking digital pictures of items." One could argue, though I didn't, that it was inappropriate use of the word and should be stopped.
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From:silverharloe
Date:September 18th, 2007 07:57 pm (UTC)

Re: but that doesn't mean..

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I take lexicat's point about language evolution, but if you always have a subjective view of definitions of words, then doesn't that mean language can evolve too rapidly to keep people communicating?

well. I had to erase some of this post when I answered my own question differently than I thought when I hit "reply":

much of language history existed before dictionaries and grammar references, and so we have ample historical evidence suggesting the answer to my question is "no".
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