Magazine article Online

Words to the Wise

Magazine article Online

Words to the Wise

Article excerpt

Authors, editors, and online searchers have at least one trait in common - the enjoyment of words. That's not to say it's a perpetual love affair. The strain of finding just the right word, whether it's for an article or a search statement, is not the most satisfying of endeavors. In fact, it can be hugely frustrating. Sometimes it's not as enjoyable as we'd like.

There are times when we think we know exactly what we mean, but it comes out all wrong. Take this pharmacy sign as an example: "We dispense with accuracy." Doubtless the sign is meant to tout the accuracy of the pharmacological concoctions, but it conveys the opposite, given diverging meanings of the word "dispense." These slight differences can be disastrous. An old cartoon (I'm paraphrasing here) has a teacher telling wide-eyed students gazing in fascination/horror at a computer screen that there's a difference between "fertility practices" and "fertilization practices" when viewing videos.

Language is slippery. It changes over time, presenting other challenges to online researchers. If you use yesterday's standard descriptive phrase, you may miss a recent item using today's nomenclature. As we add social media to our research toolboxes, we contend with vernacular language, abbreviations, and condensed words. Researching genetically modified agriculture? Try Frankenfoods as a term. How about an automobile's speed? A Google employee suggested "zero to sixty" as the most effective search phrase.

What about controlled vocabularies? In graduate schools of library and information science, professors extol the value of indexing. Use the proper thesaurus term and your search results will be more relevant, more targeted, and just plain better. Much of the time, this is true. But the meanings of terms that were applied decades ago could have changed over time. New words to describe social activities, natural phenomena, political movements, business dealings, and even scientific attributes evolve. …

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