Thursday, October 4, 2012

Colloquial vs Technical

I'm gonna go off on a little wild hair thats been buggin me for a bit here (and please keep in mind I'm still semi loopy from the muscle relaxer I took LAST NIGHT) and that is when people confuse/freak out over colloquial vs technical usage of terminology.

B/c see the nagging thing about language is that a word ultimately means what the user thinks it means, in their head, when they say it.

Read that last line twice to make sure you got it. Yes one could argue (rightly) that what a word means is whatever it is defined as meaning in a dictionary. Except see dictionaries change over time (The Oxford English Dictionary is the awesome sauce for this reason b/c it not only tracks what the word means now but what it USED to mean and when the meaning changed. Very important.) and the dictionaries change to reflect current usage. And some people seriously get their panties in a twist when some body gets the current (colloquial) usage wrong vs the technical (current dictionary version) usage or even visa versa.

Personally I think both usages are valid and you have to know your audience and the context they're being used for to know which version to go with.

Abstract rambling I know but here let me give you some examples:

Shoe Fetish

I like to say I have a "Shoe Fetish" (or at least I did before I screwed up my ankle and had to start wearing shoes for comfort and not looks). Now TECHNICALLY the term "Shoe Fetish" implies that I get off on shoes, sexually speaking. You periodically hear stories in the news about freaky little men who break into their coworkers apartments to steal shoes and they find them in some little apartment attic somewhere with 2000 stolen worn shoes that they just have to have for sexual reasons. Ew.

This is NOT what I mean when I say I have a "Shoe Fetish". I purposefully abuse the technical term (for the sake of humor) and go with the colloquial usage which has come to mean "I really love shoes! They make me giddy happy when I find a new pair ON SALE!!".

Most people understand that this is what I mean when I say the term "Shoe Fetish" and they go "OOOOh me too!" and I only occasionally get crap from the more technically minded (usually male) individuals. And I've learned to judge my listener and I can usually tell if they'll be okay with the "Shoe Fetish" term (and find it humorous) OR if I should go "Ohhh I seriously love shoes" just so I don't get that, "Ewwww you freak" look from somebody.

Antisocial vs Asocial

Similarly my husband is forever getting bent when somebody "misuses" the term "Antisocial". My husband is a strictly technical person. I periodically have to calm him down about this and I've found telling him "Its okay Sheldon" (The Big Bang Theory reference. If you don't get it, go start watching immediately after reading this post), helps him get a grip on things and take a deep breath.

Because see the colloquial usage says "Antisocial" when what they really mean is "Asocial". Technically. Because "Asocial" means somebody who is just not social. I.e. a homebody, someone with few or no friends who doesn't get out much and dislikes large groups (you could also describe them as introverts). But most people don't use "Asocial" to mean that (it is kind of a weird, if accurate, term). Most people use the term "Antisocial" to describe such a person.

Except in psychology Asocial vs Antisocial are two very different things. An Antisocial person is somebody more like the Joker in Batman Begins. Violent, aggressive, with no regard for the feelings of others or societal norms. They might really like large groups of people but mostly so they have an audience full of victims.... Colloquially this type of behavior usually gets termed "Psychopath" but that term may or may not encompass this set of behaviors depending on which dictionary you're looking at.

Confused yet? I know.

So basically, I tell him that YES "Asocial" is the correct term. However, the general populace doesn't KNOW this term and doesn't get the difference. So for clarity's sake if I'm speaking to a group of lay people I will use the term "Antisocial". If I'm speaking to a group of psychologists I'll use the term "Asocial" and ya know what, one could argue in both situations I'm using the right terminology, because its the one that my audience can understand.

Mentally Retarded

Now this one irritates me b/c some people don't get the difference between the colloquial usage and the technical term. They assume they are one in the same. And they are NOT.

For example: If you call some one a "retard", this is a derogatory term synonymous with "Stupid".

One could argue that usage of the word "retard" as a derogatory term is cruel to people who are actually "mentally retarded" and while they are probably right, at least personally, thats not what I mean. I would never, ever call an actual mentally retarded person a "retard". I generally reserve that term for a high functioning individual who is choosing to be an idiot. Its a fine distinction and probably means I'm a bad person and I should probably abandon its usage all together but it slips out occasionally, so there.

However, the technical term "Mentally retarded" does NOT mean "Stupid". It just means "Slow to learn."

For example: you might have noticed that nothing now days is "Fire Proof" this is because ANYTHING will burn if you get it hot enough, and thus the Sheldon's of the world (or more accurately, their lawyers) have declared that things must be called Fire Retardants, which means "really hard to catch on fire".

Likewise a mentally retarded person is not stupid and incapable of learning. Okay, point of fact, in some extreme cases, such as a permanent vegetative state, one could argue that such a person is in fact incapable of learning, and then somebody else would argue that you don't know what their brain is actually absorbing and down that road leads to madness. So for our purposes we're going to say that as long as they're capable of consciousness and some form of communication, they are still capable of learning.

It might be really hard, and they might be slow to learn but they are learning and that is all that mentally retarded means. They're not "learning proof", they're just "slow to learn". So before you get your panties in a twist that somebody is calling some one you know "mentally retarded" and you think that means that they are saying your loved one is "stupid and incapable of learning", it is NOT the same thing. It just means "slow to learn" like fire retardant means "slow to catch fire".

Flip side for law and policy makers out there: just because a child has been termed "mentally retarded" does not mean that they are incapable of learning and therefore you shouldn't even try or spend resources and time teaching them, it just means they need extra help and are still "worth" assisting.

So yeah. Long story short: please be aware that there are differences between the technical and colloquial definitions of terminology and that its important to use contextual clues to tell which one is being used to avoid misunderstandings and also using the version that is appropriate to your audience is important for clarities sake.

Any examples of technical vs colloquial that get your dander up or am I the only one with this problem? lol

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