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Posts Tagged ‘meaning

Call me a pedantic semantic, but “America“ does not belong to the USA nor should the names be used interchangeably.

I reflected on this at least twice [1] [2] in the past. I only had the benefit of inputs from the people I interacted with when I lived in the US. Now I also have this informative and funny video.

Video source

The Map Men took a jaunty walk down history to explain why politicians in the US did their best to obtain a map that first labelled the Americas “America”. The US conveniently overlooked how the label of “America” was on what is now Brazil.

Sidetrack: If the US needs a name more apt, I would borrow one from the list provided by the Map Men — The Land of the Rising Gun.

Now “America” is practically synonymous with the USA. This ignores the fact that there are so many other countries in “America”.

A linguist might ask: If common use has redefined a word, why fight against it? Mine is not a linguistic or semantic argument. It is a philosophical and practical one.

For example, assessment is not the same as evaluation; gamification is not the same as game-based learning; the flipped classroom is not the same as flipping learning processes. I leave my previous reflections to define these terms and phrases for me.

The words we use can create shared meaning or sow confusion. I would rather do the former as part of my philosophy of teaching. We then act on what we understand and believe, i.e., there are practical consequences.

For example, a poorly informed instructional designer might develop a learning package that “gamifies” learning with a multiple choice quiz that rewards students with extrinsic rewards if they complete this assessment outside of class.

If this designer does this for an edtech company that sells the package as game-based flipped learning, they are selling lies. These lies become more common and acceptable if they are not challenged.

I might seem pedantic about semantics on the surface. But dig deeper and you will discover that my objections have pedagogical roots.

This tweet reminded me about how Facebook tries to redefine friends. You might end up with thousands of “friends”, most of whom you have not met in person or online. You might not even know these people and some might even be your enemies. These are not friends; they are barely acquaintances. 

Twitter is guilty of misnomers too. Take “likes” as an example. If you want to keep track of a tweet but not propagate it, you have to like it. You actually want to bookmark or archive it for later reference, but you have to send a wrong message to the tweeter and a wrong data point to Twitter.

These platforms are not reinventing the wheel. They are reshaping it so that it is twisted out of shape and feeds their data-hungry appetites.

Words matter. We need to say what we mean, and mean what we say.

I am not being pedantic about semantics. But I am particular about saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

If we do not have shared meanings, we do not have common reference points. Then when we try to solve problems, we might go off on different tangents and risk being irrelevant. 

I return to the adage say what you mean and mean what you say. Case in point:

If we give the benefit of the doubt, we know what the message means: The group wants to do good by reducing homeless problem.

But to do that, they group should have first said what they meant. They could have not skimped on the words “the number of”. The message could have read: We plan to cut the number of all homeless people in half by 2015.

Before we mean what we say, we need to first say what we mean.

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