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Saturday, March 19, 2005

What's in a name

Brief reflection on the word 'creature.' (Source of one of exhausted Granny and Beloved's few spats during the busy week.)

(Probable cause is the fact that Beloved like many brilliant men or women has some of the problems with verbal ambiguity suffered by the hero of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Granny by virtue of her literary outlook tends to be metaphorical, not to say ambiguous, all or most of the time. Frequent response by her Beloved is: 'What are you talking about?' His problem with the ambiguous is compounded by his long scientific training which requires precision, all the time.)

Granny sitting up in bed reading a review of two books about the history of bees and beekeeping, innocently reads out this statement: 'Bees are the most studied creatures in the world.'

Beloved explodes: 'Creatures -what does he mean by 'Creatures'. Plants are creatures; microbes are creatures, so is bacteria? Bloody journalists never know what they're talking about...) This is a very brief and toned-down summary of what he actually said. )

Granny tries in vain to explain that a) the reviewer is no less a scientist than he is, b) that no matter what the word 'creature' may mean to scientists, the review is addressed to lay(wo)men like her, for whom the word 'creature' could never denote 'plant' let alone 'bacteria' but simply something within range mammal bird reptile insect invertebrate (latter means she is mildly educated here; not that her Beloved would agree; he didn't.)

What word would you use then she enquires? Beloved comes up with the word 'animal' - which to non-scientists, like Granny means mammal pretty much; the less specific word 'creature' fits better therefore to the lay mind.

Not that Beloved agrees. Why should an editor promote ignorance he puffs? Scientists spend their lives trying to dispel ignorance, everyone else encourages it. Incandescent by now, he is all set to depart to another bed - heads for the door before realising that all other beds now filled by guests who might be surprised to find him joining them... He has to return, ignominously.

Granny pretty incandescent by now too at being so misunderstood.

Actually the whole thing due really to fact that it is midnight, that they are camped in the office on an uncomfortable sofa bed, they have been working all day, clearing up for an hour, that they will have to rise at 7 next morning to make breakfast.

Anyway: they make peace eventually. And next morning Granny agrees that creature is imprecise, really, and Beloved agrees it might be allowable in such circumstances. Well actually he still disputes that, and Granny continues to allow that it IS allowable. But neither push the point.


(And actually, in such a stressed week, that major spat, and some minor exchanges over practical matters is/was not bad going. )

(The hoopoe, bless him. has taken to appearing on the windowsill before her and tapping on the window with his beak. Granny has to allow that he's after his reflection, not her. But she likes it all the same. Close to, his eye is so small and round, so very bright and black. )

2 Old comments:

Blogger anan said...

Is it time to invent some new words? Or maybe that would just lend fuel to new fires...

now i want a hoopoe, too.

5:35 pm  
Blogger granny p said...

New words? Not sure they're aren't too many already 'I'm precise; you're perfectionist - he's pedantic...' Actually there are different languages - common parlance - scuentific. Nothing wrong with that.

Hoopoes? I'm sending you a virtual one this minute.

9:27 am  

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