Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Lesson of July 31, 1998
Look it up!

Non-native speakers of English have an advantage over native speakers. Non-native speakers are not ashamed to consult dictionaries if they are in doubt about the meaning of a word. Native speakers are lazy. If confronted with a word they don't know, they infer its meaning from the context, then later use the word according to their own private definition. Warning lights should blink! Alarms should ring! Let me give you an example of what happens.

Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's vice president, criticized opponents of the Vietnam War with the phrase "effete corps of impudent snobs." The word pair "effete snobs" is now part of American every-day vocabulary. What does it mean to you?

For at least the last 300 years, "effete" has meant "worn out, unable to produce." But after this (in)famous pronouncement by Agnew, everyone who didn't know its intended meaning gave it their own. Imagine the confusions associated with the following two interviews.

There you are, two new definitions of effete! To some, it now means effeminate or elite, definitions very different from its original meaning of worn out.

I hope I have inspired you to keep a dictionary at your side when writing. Colloquially expressed, if you are not sure of the meaning of a word, look it up!

(This lesson was inspired by a newspaper article written by C.H. Elster.)

Course Description P287 - Feminist Cosmology

The Big Bang Model is exposed a purely male paradigm, deliberately replete with male sexual symbolism in order to deny empowerment to women. A more progressive feminine cosmology, the Gentle Nurturing, is offered to replaced the male Big Bang theory. The Gentle Nurturing model views the origin of the universe as lengthy period of gradual gestation, followed by steady nurturing, rather than a sudden eruption. The male originators of the Big Bang theory are examined critically for their role in maintaining an oppressive order through the manipulation of physics. The new paradigm shows that we are part of an interconnected cosmic entity which must be further nurtured and protected from the harms inflicted by the radical right.

-from "Politically Correct Physics" by Jeff Lindsay

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Created July 31, 1998, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.