Stuff that occurs to me

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Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

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Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Monday, 22 October 2012

Linguistic not-quite-jargon - searching for a word to describe this

Edit: 1 May 2014
Just spotted this rather good tweeted picture showing 'what scientists say' versus 'what the public hears' which I think makes the point that fairly dull, ordinary-looking words can mean different things in different contexts (but still sufficiently similar to cause more confusion perhaps than if the meanings of the words were vastly different?)

Original post

If you don't know what phosphatidylethanolamine is you might at least reasonably guess that it's a bit of scientific jargon. It flags itself up to you as something to pay attention to because it's not an everyday word - hopefully whatever you're reading that contains it would explain what it means (it's a membrane lipid - it's a component of the double-layer protective flexible shell that covers every single living cell).

But what about words and phrases like 'theory' or 'protein' or 'model' all of which have a certain meaning in a scientific context but another meaning in everyday language ('hunch', 'dietary nutrient', 'small boat/train or clothes-selling person'). These don't particularly flag themselves up as 'words to be aware of'.

They're not jargon, they are everyday words but they're not being used in an everyday sense - what word describes this class of words that have this dual purpose? I thought about 'Janus words' but that term's already in use to describe words like 'sanction', or 'cleave', which mean both one thing and its exact opposite

I can't have been the only person to come up against this so am assuming that the universe has already given this class of words and phrases a name - what is it?


Later that same day...
@alex_brovvn has suggested 'false friends', @sciencebase suggested 'dualisms' and @inspiringsci came up with 'sensu stricto' and 'sensu lato'. I think the winner though, also suggested by @inspiringsci, might be 'polyseme'.

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