history_monk: (Me)
Radio 4 has just told me about The Visiting Professor of Money Laundering and Corporate Fraud at the University of Westminster. The chap's own website - he's a Russian corporate lawyer - agrees that's the title.
history_monk: (Me)
Wandering around the Internet last week, I ran across a good new verb. To ture is to user the Internet in general; this was coined from confusion over the concept of the Turing Machine, and fills a need, as well as honouring Alan Turing, who was important in making it all possible.
history_monk: (Default)
When I was a kid, “understand” basically meant “comprehend”, with nuances of “and appreciate the significance of”. There was an extra usage of “I feel your pain” or “I sympathise with the problem you are suffering”, but that seemed to be clearly understood as only applying when consoling someone.

Time passed, and now “understand” seems to mean, in commonplace usage “I sympathise with your problem, and agree with your point of view about it”. The "comprehend" meaning has disappeared. I find this to be a bit of a problem, because in any vaguely sophisticated thinking, it’s necessary to be able to comprehend the thinking of people you disagree with. That lets you discover possibilities for compromise, for changing the parts of their view that you disagree with, anticipating their plans, and generally accomplishing something. This is far easier than just telling people they are wrong and that they must abandon their views entirely and conform to yours. However, that is not a fashionable way of thinking.

An illustration of the change of “understanding” came when John Major, as Prime Minister, said that society should seek to understand crime a little less and condemn it a little more. He was talking to the Mail on Sunday, where rational thought is discouraged, but even so, the statement makes no sense if “understand” is used in the sense of “comprehend”.

I had an even clearer illustration of this after the 9/11 attacks. Those were pretty much unexpected, but were clearly the result of some careful planning. It seemed obviously sensible to seek some insight into the thinking behind them, so as to have some chance of predicting what else might be attacked, and what would likely not be. Knowing an enemy’s tactics allows economy of force, avoiding wasting resources and political capital. But the forum where I was trying to talk about this idea (Usenet sci.military.naval, sadly) had enough people for whom “understand” always meant “sympathise and agree with” that using the word meant I was an enemy. I wasn't. Given there was already a war, I was just trying to raise the idea of fighting a bit smarter and getting it over with more quickly, doing less harm.

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