On Fri, Jul 20, 2007 at 08:21:46AM +0900, Hal Fulton wrote:
> Wayne E. Seguin wrote:
> >>
> >> It would take a pretty extreme linguistic descriptivist to try to argue
> >> otherwise, armed with a complete disregard for much evidence to the
> >> contrary.
> > 
> > Excellent exposition Chad.
> > 
> 
> I don't disagree 100%, and I suppose you know more about linguistics
> than I do, as I know nearly nothing.
> 
> But I still think that the multiplicity of meanings or connotations
> precedes the split in spelling. I don't deny that certain meanings
> may have gravitated toward one spelling and other meanings toward
> the other -- but I don't think this is based on etymology so much
> as habit, accident, or arbitrary convention.

Etymology basically *is* an aggregate of habit, accident, and arbitrary
convention, which over time becomes an ingrained tradition of meaning and
spelling of a given term.  Historically, it is very rare for a given word
to have verifiably developed via a conscious neologism (though within
certain jargon niches this trend is reversed somewhat).  That doesn't
change the associations between specific collections of letters with
specific denotative and connotative meanings that have developed over the
years.


> 
> As an example, "theatre" acquired the variant spelling "theater"
> quite some time ago -- I believe (though I may be wrong) that this
> was part of Benjamin Franklin's efforts to alter American English
> spelling.
> 
> So these were simply variant spellings, nothing more. But as often
> happens, they coexisted side by side for a long period. (And such
> things never really die any more, because you can always pick up
> an old enough book and it is still there. And yet it is more of a
> continuum than a discrete "living or archaic" distinction, of course.
> But I digress.)

There was an early differentiation in how the spellings tended to be
used.  It was not necessarily a conscious delineation, and there was
almost certainly a brief period when they were almost interchangeable,
but at the same time that would have likely coincided with a period when
both spellings were associated with both meanings about equally, and your
social and professional status would have signified which meaning you
most often encountered.  In other words, the point at which "demon"
became as distinctly specific to a negative connotation would be the
point at which "daemon" ceased being generally interchangeable with
"demon".

Keep in mind that preceding paragraph contains a bit more personal
speculation than previous statements I've made about the subject.  I
haven't really investigated the etymology of "demon" and "daemon"
thoroughly . . . but I'm fairly confident in the above speculations.
Feel free to dismiss them as speculations.


> 
> Anyhow: In some times and circumstances, people pick an older or
> more unfamiliar spelling. Perhaps they are trying to be quaint or
> pretentious or formal or whatever. I believe that is how "theatre"
> came to be associated with live theater (as in plays) and "theater"
> came to be associated with motion pictures. I have had people "correct"
> me on this issue. But there is no valid historical basis for this. The
> variant spelling did not come about because motion pictures were
> invented (nor even *because* they were invented). The variant meanings
> were pinned onto the variant spellings at best as a matter of
> convenience.

It's true that the distinction between the meanings of "daemon" and
"demon" are not quite as clear-cut as those between "camber" and
"chamber", for instance, but the point of the discussion of the
differences in usage was related to whether or not "daemon" suffers the
same sort of Christian cultural baggage as "demon" and "god", as terms to
use for applying as names to software.  For those purposes, the usage
distinctions are quite thoroughly sufficient.  The denotative differences
in meanings and usages are pretty clear.


> 
> I perceive "daemon" and "demon" the same way. I believe that there have
> been countless scholars through history who would have said these were
> simply variant spellings. True, the word was used in different ways in
> each spelling, and certain meanings may have latched onto certain
> spellings. But I do *not* believe that the spellings deviated because
> of a change in semantics.

They didn't change *because of* a change in semantics, per se, but rather
their deviation from each other was *concurrent with* a change in
semantics.


> 
> At the risk of being misunderstood or denigrated, I am a bit of a
> prescriptivist. I usually distinguish between what a word means and
> how it is used. Thus someone snidely comments that in English, a fat
> chance and a slim chance are the same thing; so "fat" and "slim" must
> be synonyms. But of course, they don't mean the same thing; they are
> only *used* to mean the same thing. One is used in a literal way, the
> other in an ironic or sarcastic way. They are "used" to mean the same
> thing, but their meanings are really different.

I'm a fair bit of a prescriptivist, myself -- which is why I tend to
ignore descriptivist definitions in dictionaries like the OED in favor of
more precise definitions in dictionaries like the American Heritage.  The
former mentions all the ways in which a term is used without
differentiating meaningfully between them (thus leading to a fair bit of
confusion over the meaning of terms like "infer"), whereas in the latter
the tendency of some people to use "infer" to mean "imply" is noted but
clearly marked as incorrect usage.  Your note about how terms are used to
mean the same thing when their actual meanings are different does apply
here, but with even less of a suggestion that demon and daemon are
synonymous: the usage of the two *is* distinct, as well as the
traditional denotative associations of each.


> 
> In an emergency, I may use the butt of a screwdriver to pound a nail.
> But the screwdriver does not then become a hammer (not even if everyone
> else also uses it to pound nails).
> 
> What I call a "radical prescriptivist" (not me) seems to think that
> grammar and usage are like laws of physics, inalienable and unalterable.
> I am not so radical. It's fine for languages to change, but I do not
> like for ignorance and carelessness to be the primary drivers of such
> change.

Agreed. . . .


> 
> The "radical descriptivist" on the other hand is like a doctor who is
> so obsessed with categorizing and studying a cancerous growth that he
> fails to consider it pathological and lets the patient die.

. . . and that's basically the problem I have with the assertion that
"demon" and "daemon" are culturally interchangeable.  They aren't, even
if some small number of people who are familiar with both terms actually
treat them as interchangeable.


> 
> I've had friends who would argue that "imply" and "infer" really mean
> the same thing now, since more than 50% of the people don't know the
> difference. I say that using "infer" to mean "imply" is simple ignorance
> and should be resisted.

Confusion over "imply" and "infer" is one of my pet peeves, really.  I
find it more troublesome than confusion over to and too, and over its and
it's, because instead of simply being homonyms with similar spellings and
differing meanings, they are *not* homonyms, are *not* spelled all that
similarly, and are almost exactly *antonyms*.


> 
> I have known many people who think that "between you and I" is a
> preferable usage because "it sounds more elegant" or whatever. My
> personal opinion on that, which I never really express, is that
> ignorance is never elegant.

Again, agreed.


> 
> As for me, I lean toward prescriptivism while recognizing the extreme
> objective value of descriptivism. I just think that language change
> should occur slowly and with caution, and there should be "standards"
> that are not necessarily totally based on the vote of every wagging
> tongue.

Again . . . that's part of my reason for differentiating between "demon"
and "daemon".  If we don't, we run the risk of the meaning in usage that
we (who know the difference) currently assign to "daemon" withering away
entirely, leaving sort of a hole in the language, while increasing the
potential for sloppiness in language by turning "daemon" into nothing
more than a variant spelling.

-- 
CCD CopyWrite Chad Perrin [ http://ccd.apotheon.org ]
Patrick J. LoPresti: "Emacs has been replaced by a shell script which 1)
Generates a syslog message at level LOG_EMERG; 2) reduces the user's disk
quota by 100K; and 3) RUNS ED!!!!!!"