Language: March 2007 Archives

Terrestrial Radio

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I heard someone on the radio today refer to radio as terrestrial radio (as opposed to internet "radio"). A quick Google search reveals that this inaccurate term has become fairly standard. Now internet "radio" is not radio but simply music selected by someone else to listen to coming via another medium. People do that over radio waves too, and they just wanted to capture the feel of radio stations but in a different medium. I could understand internet television, since that term is not tied to the medium the signal is carried in. But the word 'radio' is, or at least it used to be before whoever started talking about internet "radio" hijacked the term.

It's always seemed a bad idea to me to call that radio, but I think it's worse to refer to actual radio as terrestrial radio. Something is terrestrial if it is on the ground. Radio waves go through the air. What's worse, however, is that internet "radio" is much closer to the ground than actual radio. Internet cables can run through the air but can also run along the ground or underground. It would thus be much more accurate to call radio by its name, 'radio', and to refer to this thing they're calling internet "radio" as terrestrial radio. It wouldn't be accurate, but it would be more accurate than what they're using the term for now. But I guess people who coin words don't often think about what they're doing, and we've now got a case where terrestrial radio is not terrestrial, and internet radio is not radio. At least they're not distinguishing between AM and FM internet radio.

Someone found this blog searching for the following question:

should you capitalize bible

I'd be surprised if the searcher is ever going to see this post, but what would be the best way to answer that question? I was always taught to capitalize it, but I was also taught to capitalize pronouns for divine persons, and I've since concluded that that's not just unnecessary but a bad idea entirely. So should we capitalize the initial letter of 'Bible' or not?

I don't think the arguments against capitalizing divine pronouns apply here, since those arguments rely on the ambiguity of pronouns in terms of who they refer to. The issue is whether it's a proper name of the sort that we should capitalize. We capitalize proper names, which is why I mark it wrong when my students use the word 'god' with lowercase when they are referring to a divine being as if with a name. Some people think they shouldn't capitalize the word if they don't or aren't sure they believe in God or one god, but we capitalize the name 'Gandalf', and no one believes he exists.

But is it different with the expression 'the Bible'? After all, we're not capitalizing the first letter of 'the', and the presence of that definite article to begin with is unusual in a name. But then other names do begin with articles, e.g. the Superbowl, the Beatles, the Boston Celtics, the Kama Sutra. So there's no assumption that you really believe the Bible is holy. It's just treating the name as a proper name of the same kind as the rest of this list. My conclusion then (in the absence of any argument to the contrary or any considerations undermining the one consideration that I've given) is that we ought to capitalize the initial B in 'Bible' when using 'the Bible' as a proper name. This reasoning would not support capitalizing the adjectival form 'biblical'.

I guess this means I need to be making a note of this also in my students' papers. I'd been thinking this was the sort of thing people could disagree about in a way that isn't true of 'God'. But it appears that's not so. You get it wrong when you talk about the bible as opposed to the Bible (at least when you're talking about the Bible and not some TV show's backstory guide for the writers of the show, which is indeed a bible).

Kurdistan

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Andrew Jackson is criticizing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for referring to the border between Turkey and Kurdistan. Given one geographical and cultural entity that the name 'Kurdistan' refers to, he is right. Kurdistan is a region that is larger than the region within Iraq occupied by Kurdish people. Parts of it are in other countries, including most importantly a part that is in Turkey, and thus there could be no border between Turkey and that Kurdistan.

However, the term 'Kurdistan' is ambiguous, which Wikipedia's disambiguation page for the term demonstrates. One legitimate use of the term 'Kurdistan' is to refer to the province of Kurdistan in Iraq. One might argue that it would be politically inexpedient to refer to the border that way when talking to someone in Turkey, but she was speaking in the U.S. Congress about problems that in context very clearly had to do with Iraqi Kurdistan, not the larger Kurdish region. In context, then, what she said was not inaccurate and not an error. There is in fact a border between Turkey and the Kurdistan she was referring to, and anyone who knows the name of that semi-autonomous region in Iraq would have been able to register that she meant that Kurdistan rather than the larger, culturally-identified, non-political region that Andrew has in mind.

Update 3-3-07 10:54 pm: The State Department has issued a statement. Andrew describes it as follows: "Condi Rice backsteps and clarifies that northern Iraq is not Kurdistan, no matter what they want to call themselves." But what he links to sounds like the State Department is explaining what she meant and not taking it back. All it says is that she was referring to the region of Iraq that goes by that name. It's thus more akin to my defense of her statement than to an apology or retraction.

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