Tuesday, March 08, 2011
A Question of Semantics
On my way to & from knitting tonight, I was catching up on some past episodes of CBC's White Coat, Black Art. Two things really caught my attention: One interviewee said doctors usually say "the patient failed the treatment", rather than "the treatment failed the patient". Who/what is being tested? A letter writer pointed out that in a prior episode, pumps were described as "too difficult for nurses to figure out", rather than "poorly designed". Nurses made it through nursing school, they're no dumb cookies. It made me wonder where else some commonly used phrases have us thinking the wrong things. One that came to mind is something I experience in my job helping students: "I know my code is right, but it's not working". Actually, your code is doing exactly what you told it to do, you just haven't figured the problem out yet. I suspect that quite often, the way we unthinkingly phrase things affects how we think about things.