All in how we say it, one word, one term at a time

Today’s installment marks the 1,200th entry on the Air Quality Matters blog. To mark this accomplishment, where content and context is concerned, I thought I would change the mood just a bit. Sort of akin to swapping the on-stage props in a play with others. Really this is all about word/meaning, term/meaning match. Given that part of this discussion deals with global warming and climate change, it relates. So, with no further ado, I present to you: All in how we say it, one word, one term at a time.

If there is one word more than any other that most accurately describes the Earth, that word would be “dynamic;” dynamic as in ever-changing. Even the planet’s degree of axial tilt changes. In case there is any doubt, offering a clue is this saying: “The only constant in life is change.” Any questions?

In the interest – and as a matter – of science regarding communication thereof, it is important … no, wait!, make that imperative … that the terminology connected with this area of study, with the field, be as accurate or precise as it can be. This should go without saying.

In fact, such should transcend science and apply to all things communication so as to prevent the possibility of confusion, misinterpretation, miscommunication. In cases where a particular word or phrase or term has become standard fare since let’s say, time immemorial as one pointed example, but now may no longer be the case when a word or phrase or term comes along that more accurately describes the particular situation, then such becomes the case that the one that was long-accepted and adopted gets superseded by one that is more correct, accurate, precise. Such would be the situation – a case in point, if you will – with the terms “manned booth” or “manned spacecraft,” my suggested replacements being “staffed booth” and “occupied spacecraft,” respectively. You get my point, right?

Another would be the word or term “permafrost,” which basically describes a condition of permanently frozen earth or ground.

As we are fast learning, because of global warming, there are many locations located throughout the northern hemisphere – in parts of Alaska and Siberia, to name but two – where ground that was previously frozen solid is now unfreezing, or maybe more appropriately, thawing. So, being this is the case would it still be acceptable to term the condition that applies permafrost? Even the “frost” part of the expression should be called into question, I say. A misnomer if there ever was one.

Okay, so if you aren’t buying any of this at this point, you might instead be thinking this is all much ado about nothing, that I’m barking up the wrong tree or worse, that I’m in search of a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. Yikes! All contentions, I’ll have you know, I vehemently disagree with.

All of which brings me to my next talking point: climate change. Well, if the reason or reasons aren’t obvious, let me spell it out.

Mention the climate change term and it will elicit in those prompted a vast array of different interpretations or meanings from those who at times have pondered this construct. Some see the concept of a changing climate as just another of the earth’s constants. Others, meanwhile, view cc as a hoax, while still others support the notion as real and absolute; staunch believers not only with regard to the idea being backed by science but that humans are behind the change 100 percent; in other words it is we who are responsible for the phenomenon. So, as is plain to see, a range of definitions will be given depending upon whom is asked.

While we are on the subject, there are other words and phrases – as are often applied to scientific terminology – that may not be the most precise or correct or accurate either. Two I can think of right off the bat are underwater and underground.

In the case of the latter, think about the word “ground.” Ask yourself this: Where does the ground start? Where does it end? How thick is it? Answering these questions definitively may not be all that important. Rather what is, on the other hand, is the very idea of underground itself.

As considered, what people are typically thinking of when they use, hear or read this word, is that which is subsurface or the area or space beneath the ground’s surface.

As such, why not replace underground with subsurface? Honestly and practically speaking, that just seems to make the most sense.

And, if one good word switcheroo deserves another, which, by the way, it does, then it follows that the word underwater should be replaced either with the expression subsurface or its “in-the-water” equivalent, which would mean the acronym SCUBA for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus would instead need to be SCIBA for Self-Contained In-the-water Breathing Apparatus.

If it happens that you’re inclined to disagree, consider this. The other day I was watching tv and the content had to do with a young lad landing a fish and as it were there was this inquisitive chap who wanted to know just where this prized catch was had, to which the youngster replied: “In the water!” But, of course!

And, finally, as it applies in this case, I rest mine.

– Alan Kandel

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