I think the english language is deficient to describe our differing levels of understanding subjects. Know, believe, etc. all have too many definitions to accurately portray any distinction.
I have noticed this in legal cases, especially when asking lay and expert witness what they know about certain concepts. The audience inevitably has to assume that when the witness says he knows something, it is impossible to demonstrate how well he knows it without entering a 10 minute lecture. This is nonsense. Especially when dealing in abstract areas. Hard science is head over heels ahead of soft sciences in this area. However soft sciences involve empirical data versus propositional knowledge. The attempt to use empirical terms to describe propositional concepts is not working. It would appear to me that it is time for a change.
I would like to attempt to establish at least three new words to describe differentiating levels of knowledge. I haven’t a clue which ones to use, but I am sure someone will have some suggestions.
Information, data, facts, observations, and ‘best guess’.
English is actually a very diverse language… what has happened is a complete debasement of language in our society, to the point were people of average intelligence are becoming unable to hold intellectual conversations because they either have a limited vocabulary, have been trained to talk in bullet-point-speech, or are so accustomed to the “dumbing-down” of information.
I am 35, and currently working on my MA. There are some very young students in my classes. I was working on a prereq class, and some of the other students were under 20 years old (yes, it made me feel old!) I was beside myself at their inability to express complex ideas with proper vocabulary.
The other problem with language in our society is the trend to “remake” words to change the connotations. For example, I remember having a heated discussion in high school over the word “nigger.” A white guy called another white guy “nigger.” I asked what he ment by that, and he tried to explain that “nigger” is an attitude, regardless if a person is white, black, Asian, etc. Now, we say “N-word” because the word has become so inflamatory, and people are afraid of being called racist, that they have actually increased the power of the word by refusing to use it. One of my college professors said “F-word” instead of “fag” when we were talking about discrimination and bigotry against gay people.
Language is interesting, isn’t it? It can be such a powerful tool, but so few truly know how to use it properly. When they do, they’re “elitists” (think Kerry/Bush.)
:shock: when I previewed my post, I found that my use of the forbidden “N-word” has been edited with asterisks. I rest my case.
I recall how shocked I was at about age 15 when I realized how people were controlled by words. I wanted to shout at them to wake up and realize that a word was just a word, not something to get all emotional about. I still try to get that message across but have become acustom to seeing people who seem perfectly rational go to pieces over the use of a “politically incorrect” word (aside: as far as I’m concerned the only proper definition for the term “politically correct” is that a person makes the effort to inform themself on the issues, to express their opinions, and to support them with a vote).