Language is an amazing thing, isn’t it? Recent research seems to indicate that it
originated in sub-Saharan Africa with about a hundred different sounds each of which
probably stood for a single concept. Later, the likelihood is, those sounds began
to be assembled into words and it was found lots of words could be made with fewer
sounds so some of the more difficult phonemes dropped out of use. As people migrated
they became separated by mountains, forests and rivers, so different tongues gradually
evolved. That’s when the barriers to communication got worse.
A while ago, I was conversing with an English lecturer who had spent some time associating
with Scientists. He said the most notable cultural difference was in the precision
with which the Scientists chose their words. However, even those who share a language
like English can misunderstand each other because of the different meanings they
assign to the same word. Can you think of a word that means one thing to one person
and the opposite to another?
Such a word is ‘believe’. Many religious people consider a belief to be a solid fact
based on their conviction in the veracity of a book that they were taught from as
children. Scientific Realists use the word in the sense of, ‘I believe Tom is hiding
in the garden’; in other words, for something they do not really know for sure. ‘Belief’
means certainty to one and doubt to the other!
A good Scientist has little use for the word ‘believe’ in a Scientific context because
it’s reasonable to assume educated audiences know that Scientific Facts are based
on evidence and do not require believing. Sadly, debating from different premises
soon turns into an argument. My advice is to define the words before you start, which
of course cannot be done during verbal communication - people are usually too impatient
to listen and rarely allow themselves enough time to absorb the significance of the
different usages. Fortunately, we now have Facebook and Twitter that can be used
for more carefully considered dialogues although the absence of intonation and facial
expression presents its own problems.
The history of words can often be revealing. Take ‘sect’ for example. There are two
schools of thought as to its origin: the Oxford English Dictionary and the Online
Etymological Dictionary both suggest it maybe from either the Latin secta from fem.
of sectus meaning "following a person’s guidance, hence party or faction", or from
secta, fem. pp. of secare meaning "to cut" which has also given us words like section,
sector, dissect and bisect. The American Heritage New Dictionary says: ‘A religious
group, especially one that has separated from a larger group’ thus indicating an
affinity to the ‘cut’ option.
Is the origin of the word ‘sect’ a clue? Are religions divisive, unnecessarily cutting
up mankind into antagonistic groups based on falsehoods?
‘‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language”