Monday, June 4, 2007

Names Schmames

Terminology, nomenclature, taxonomy, classification and so on. We need to define what something is if we are to communicate to someone else what that thing is, or what it did, or how a certain anecdote involving that thing is actually an anecdote.

We can’t make sense to another individual without a shared language, so words need to have meaning. Simple names of objects, such as car, chair, shoe, desk, bed, etc, come up in daily life often, and if we didn’t know these words we’d be set back in our daily routine. If you come into the office in the morning and Jim (you know Jim) says, “what side of the bed did you wake up on?” or something to that effect, you would likely be very confused if you didn’t know what a bed was.

Anyone can say that they were using their binoculars to spy out a Parus major, or a Sula sula, and you would think they are intelligent and kindly Marlin Perkins type folks, when they are really greasy little perverts who happen to enjoy dead language double entendre. But you (and when I say “you” I don’t mean all of you, just most of you) didn’t know that.

So, you see, even many names, in fact most names, don’t make any sense to us. So we may have to make our own names. Names such as whippoorwill and chuckwillswidow are great examples of this homespun naming convention. If you forget the birds name just wait a minute or two and the bird will say the name again to remind you.

Besides the fact that many of those names are silly sounding, I don’t really have a problem with them. And when compared with Latin names that often serve no function except to tie in the name of one animal that you never heard of or can’t remember to another animal you never will see and won’t need to remember, the common names make more sense. However, they still fall far short, see the following example:

If you were visiting me at my home and I suddenly said, “I just saw a couple of great tits flitting about in the backyard” you would probably run to the window to try and see what’s out there. If I said, “I just saw a couple of parus majors flitting about in the backyard” you might casually walk to the window because you might still think I’m talking about ladies breasts, but if I said “I just saw a couple of little birds flitting about in the backyard” you would remain seated.

The irony of this scenario is that the lack of specificity gets the point across.

I think it’s great that people like to classify everything. Things need classifying. But if you see a cat running down the street and you say, “look at that equus caballus!”, I probably won’t correct you.

No comments: