Science

Skepchick Quickies 2.28

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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17 Comments

  1. Language evolves, deal with it. In a few hundred years the English we speak now will be as incomprehensible to us as Shakespeare or Beowolf are. Except we'll be dead so we won't know it and the contemporary speakers will be looking back at our version of English as archaic. So what? I hate language snobbery. I was very happy to recently discover that the Oxford book of English grammar says that both "may" and "can" are appropriate ways to ask for permission. So there! I hope my 3rd grade teacher is reading this. :-)

  2. I'm with you for the most part, writerdd, even if I sometimes regret the direction that change may take (LOL kthx, u no wut I mean?)

    Which of course reminds me of a conversation I had with Blake Stacey and Joshua at Darwin Day, where it was suggested that in a short while LOLspeak would be the "new English"…which was followed by a semi-spontaneous utterance of "O Rly?" "Ya Rly!" "No Wai!" around the table

  3. I've admired Getlerner's opinions in the past, but I completely disagree with him on this one, and it sounds like he's drifting into angry old man territory. I like Amanda's suggestion that one's own gender is a good default.

  4. David Gelertner would like you to stop murdering the English language and just use he to refer to everyone, regardless of gender.

    He said "raping the English language!" Then he says to use "he." What a hack.

    I'm with Blake, and go for "they" and "them." The use of he or she conjures a gender image in my mind, which I don't like. I am sloppy about things like "actor" instead of "actress," but I see that many female actors call themselves actors. "Firefighter" really is better.

  5. That fish things seems fishy by saying "they can count." Why wouldn't it simply be just a visual thing, as in I see a larger group without counting – it just looks bigger than a smaller group. Do tigers count the number of a large herd of water buffalo vs. a small group that they feel they can attack?

    I'd like an ichthyologist's opinion on this – it doesn't sit well with me, but what do I know.

  6. Well, they probably don't count like adult humans count. As it says, they can only differentiate between one, two, three, and four (and groups that were different by a 2:1 ratio). This probably is better worded as a 'visual thing'–you'll notice that the author calls it 'visual counting' and characterizes it as a very rudimentary mathematical ability. They probably don't sit back and count each item individually, but are able to tell how many items are there at small quantities.

  7. I think humans can't "visually count" more than about 7 or 8 objects/items either. Unless they're already visually arranged in lines or groups (like on dice of playing cards).

    Once the numbers run upwards of ten, we can only approximate, which I think is sufficient if your aim is to identify threat levels (number of predators) or food supplies (number of apples on a tree). An exact number isn't essential in that case.

    In order to make a more accurate guess, you have to first be able to mentally divide the group into smaller segments that meet the first criterium, and then multiply by the number of segments. And that takes a bit more time and conscious effort.

  8. I’m with Blake, and go for “they” and “them.” The use of he or she conjures a gender image in my mind, which I don’t like. I am sloppy about things like “actor” instead of “actress,” but I see that many female actors call themselves actors. “Firefighter” really is better.

    As much as I support the use of gender-neutral occupation names on feminist grounds, I will long mourn the passing of the word "aviatrix".

  9. I like the singular "they" as well, but I also like Amanda's professor's idea of using your own gender as the default. Perhaps I shall start using "she" regularly. Hey, can I use that one when referring to God as well?

  10. It is the nature of language that it changes and evolves. The onlything that matters is the clarity of your message. Grammar, word usage, spelling, word order, punctuation, capitalization…. all of it is subject to constant change.

  11. Joshua, I’m with you. I personally despair at the paucity with which the “-trix” suffix is used today. When “aviatrix” and “dominatrix” are the only two which spring readily to mind, it’s clear that this reeks of underrepresentation.

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