Origin of Terminology

Goals

The early usage track-down of terminology may provide an insightful and compelling argument for the rigorous historical story to the extent of understanding the underneath nature of scientific subjects. Unfortunately, those origins are conventionally understood as nominal rather than substantial yet. To reassemble the whole story, we will examine highlights from the early documents of the terms, saying, “molecular biology“, “personal computer“, “software“, “hardware“, “bug“, “bit“,  “memory“, “novel”, etc.

The origins of terminology of the humanities, social sciences, and natural science are still pending further discoveries. The earliest usage track-down of a target term could provide an insightful and compelling argument for rigorous historical story, and finally help us penetrate to the essence of reality. However, many empirical extrapolated theories based on sole information source always turns out de facto knowledge illusions. Therefore, retaining a clear sense of the pros and cons of any retrospective information source is the necessary prerequisite to such scientific efforts.

1997-Nature_You read it here first_'Novel'
Cipra - 2001 - You Read It Here First

 

What are the open problems of terminology?

Some of the most intriguing questions come to the fore whenever the origin of a specific term is discussed:

  • When a specific term was first coined?
  • Who coined it? And what are the initial motivations?
  • What if the coiner is not a celebrity?
  • Where did a specific term make its first appearance, in a classified document, in a non-technical material, or in a non-text material?
  • Was the English term borrowed from other languages?
  • Does a specific term tend to be of the same form in most languages?

With the tick of time, everything falls into oblivion in history. However, meta-analysis and evidence synthesis of historical methodologies are more often invoked than examined. Hunting predated count-examples is a visionary endeavor that would unseat those present-day contentious findings and eventually promise to knit the whole story together.

Should the term “information scientist” debut later than the term “information science”?

Undoubtedly, it is very challenging task to trace the vicissitudes of a specific terminology, and decipher the puzzles of reality in sociocultural perspective. Fred R. Shapiro, the editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, devoted to track down the earliest usage of dozens of words or phrases, including the terms “information scientist” (1955) and “information science” (August 1953)1. But Zhou doubted that conclusion:
“In China, we generally recognize that the term ‘‘information science’’(“信息学”) first appeared in 1959, and the term ‘‘information scientist’’(“信息学家”) appeared around 1958.”2
Questions:
  • Would you like to offer any further attestations that predate these of Fred R. Shapiro?
  • And why?
Refs:
1. Shapiro, F. R. Coinage of the term information science. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. 46, 384–385 (1995).

2. Zhiyou, Z. The term “information science”. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. 48, 1153–1153 (1997).

Is Francis H. C. Crick the first scientist who claimed himself the title of “molecular biologist”?
In 1957, the Nobel Laureate Francis Crick (also known as F. H. C. Crick or Francis Harry Compton Crick), stepped up to the plate and disclaimed the title of biologist.
He said:
“I usually call myself molecular biologist, a very different creature.”[1]
Later, in 1965, he reiterated:
“I myself was forced to call myself molecular biologist because when inquiring clergymen asked me what I did, I got tired of explaining that I was a mixture of crystallographer, biophysicist, biochemist, and geneticist, an explanation which in any case they found too hard to grasp.”[2-3]
Refs:
[1] The Authors. Sci. Am. 197, 58–79 (1957).
[2] Crick, F. H. C. Recent research in molecular biology: introduction. Br. Med. Bull. 21, 183–6 (1965).

[3] Stent, G. S. That Was the Molecular Biology That Was. Science 160, 390–395 (1968).

You don’t Read It First in Science

! 1968-Science-the origin of the computer term “personal computer”-p7-8

You don’t read the term “personal computer” first in Science

Our key findings are listed as follows:

  • The question of the origins of scientific terms belongs rather to anthropology proper than to linguistics[i]. Aside from professional skills[ii], great care and expert discrimination, tremendous labor and personal communication should be involved in determining relative evidences in fragmentary snippets of intricacies and esoterica. Another difficulty is the great scarcity of original evidences on which we have adequately worked out and accurate descriptive materials. Arguably, so many hasty conclusions published in Science and Nature are erroneous, and they should be corrected in due course. For example, the term “computer” may debut in Richard Braithwait’s book in 1613; the early occurrence of “molecular biology” could stem back to 1884[iii], not as Fred R. Shapiro and David Malakoff expected to be in 1941[iv], not as Warren Weaver expected in 1938[v], neither as Maurice Errera expected in 1903[vi] nor as William Thomas Astbury and Gunther S. Stent expected in 1952[vii] (Interestingly, William Thomas Astbury even forgot that he used to use the term “molecular biology” in his own article on 2 February 1946.[viii] The latest OED Online also neglected that important historical event.); and the early usage of “personal computer” could date back as far as 1954[ix], not as Fred R. Shapiro, David Malakoff and Barry Cipra expected to be in 1968[x]. However, such unreliable conclusions may mislead technically later quotations in scientific literature and lexicography in our collective future.
  • Scientific terminology is the primary driver of tongues progress that are used by scientists in the context of their professional activities. And academic-industrial consortia are always in response to the emergence of new scientific terms, and then further encourage public adoption of them. Conventionally, the track-down of their origins could provide insightful and compelling arguments for relishable historical stories to the extent of understanding the underneath nature of their debutants[xi]. However, discussions on some issues descending their origins or coinages still remain off limits. (see Supplementary Materials)
  • Generally, the track-down of origins of scientific terminology has to turn to powerful tools or datasets available with imperfect information. We should never overestimate the power of any sole information source without cross validation. As a case in point, here, we first propose solid evidences to unseat the present-day contentious findings of recent studies[xii].
  • The history of science and technology might even be redefined due to the misjudgments of terminology’s debutants even in textbooks, which might have the most direct relation to certain significant but unexplored events. As a result, the buried real events, including inventions, originalities as well as the trains of thoughts, will prevent the induction and stimulation of creative inspiration in generations.
  • We first propose the empirical Data Quality Review Metrics (DQRM) and Accuracy-Performance Matrix (APM) to evaluate the evidentiary effect of retrospective resources for such scientific attempts. They are shown to be sound in the past empirical research of coinages, etymology, diachronic discourse and lexical dynamics. Those systemic approaches are expected to provide hallmark reference to reframe extensible discussions.

[i] The Origin of Languages, and the Antiquity of Speaking Man. Science ns8, 191–196 (1886).
[ii] M. Henzinger, Search Technologies for the Internet. Science 317, 468–471 (2007).
[iii] A. Gray, Book review: William Keith Brooks, The Law of Heredity. A Study of the Cause of Variation and the Origin of Living Organisms (Baltimore: John Murphy & Co., 1883). Am. J. Sci. 27, 156–157 (1884).
[iv] D. Malakoff, You Read It Here First. Science 291, 39 (2001).
[v] W. Weaver, Molecular Biology: Origin of the Term. Science 170, 581–582 (1970).
[vi] M. Errera, Forerunner of Molecular Biology. Science 171, 334–334 (1971).
[vii] W. T. Astbury, Molecular Biology or Ultrastructural Biology? Nature 190, 1124–1124 (1961).
S. Stent, That Was the Molecular Biology That Was. Science 160, 390–395 (1968).
[viii] W. T. Astbury, Progress of X-Ray Analysis of Organic and Fibre Structures. Nature 157, 121–124 (1946).
[ix] W. H. Ware, “The Digital Computer: Where Does it Go from Here?” (Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, California, United States, 1954).
[x] F. R. Shapiro, Origin of the term “personal computer”: evidence from the JSTOR electronic journal archive. IEEE Ann. Hist. Comput. 22, 70–71 (2000).
Cipra, You Read It First in Science. Science (2000). https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2000/12/you-read-it-first-science
Malakoff, You Read It Here First. Science 291, 39 (2001).
[xi] H. C. Bolton, Origin of the Word “Barometer.” Science 17, 547–548 (1903).
F. Emmons, The Term “Geology.” Science 20, 886–887 (1904).
Veatch, The Term “Colluvial” as Applied to Clay Deposits. Science 24, 782 (1906).
W. Gregory, The Scientiffic Misappropriation of Popular Terms. Nature 87, 538–541 (1911).
F. Harmer, The Scientific Misappropriation of Popular Terms. Nature 87, 549 (1911).
A. Bather, The Scientific Misappropriation of Scientific Terms. Nature 88, 41 (1911).
A. Gortner, The Misuse of the Term “Melanin.” Science 36, 52–53 (1912).
Stewart, W. Peterson, The Origin of the “Niter Spots” in Certain Western Soils. Science 43, 20–24 (1916).
F. Kay, Gumbotil, a New Term in Pleistocene Geology. Science 44, 637–638 (1916).
M. Field, The Use of the Term Fossil. Science 51, 634–635 (1920).
M. Miller, Professor Field’s Use of the Term Fossil. Science 52, 408 (1920).
M. Field, Further Remarks on “The Use of the Term Fossil.” Science 53, 117–118 (1921).
F. Nopcsa, The Term “Arrostic.” Science 59, 238–239 (1924).
H. Knowlton, The Possible Origin of the Angiosperms. Science 61, 568–570 (1925).
W. Berry, The Term Psychozoic. Science 64, 16 (1926).
Roller, The Pronunciation and Spelling of Scientific Terms. Science 69, 16 (1929).
H. Wright, Relative to the Expression “Line Contour.” Science 75, 130 (1932).
H. Bucher, “Strath” as a Geomorphic Term. Science 75, 130–131 (1932).
G. Henbest, A New Term for the Youthful Stage of Foraminiferal Shells. Science 79, 363–364 (1934).
H. Ashley, B. Willard, The Use of the Term Pocono. Science 81, 615–617 (1935).
E. Davis, The Use of the Terms Polygamy, Polygyny and Polyandry. Science 92, 287 (1940).
E. Seashore, Origin of the Term “Euthenics.” Science 95, 455–456 (1942).
B. Macelwane, Origin of Microseisms. Science 104, 300–301 (1946).
R. Longwell, Origin of the Word Climate. Science 120, 355 (1954).
L. Hess, Origins of Molecular Biology. Science 168, 664–669 (1970).
Weaver, Molecular Biology: Origin of the Term. Science 170, 581–582 (1970).
Holden, Roots of Software. Science 288, 1169 (2000).
Cipra, You Read It First in Science. Science (2000).
https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2000/12/you-read-it-first-science
Malakoff, You Read It Here First. Science 291, 39 (2001).
Grun, T. Ramsay, N. Fedoroff, The Difficulties of Defining the Term “GM.” Science 303, 1765–1769 (2004).
[xii] F. R. Shapiro, Origin of the term “personal computer”: evidence from the JSTOR electronic journal archive. IEEE Ann. Hist. Comput. 22, 70–71 (2000).
Cipra, You Read It First in Science. Science (2000). https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2000/12/you-read-it-first-science
Malakoff, You Read It Here First. Science 291, 39 (2001).
T. Astbury, Molecular Biology or Ultrastructural Biology? Nature 190, 1124–1124 (1961).
S. Stent, That Was the Molecular Biology That Was. Science. 160, 390–395 (1968).
L. Hess, Origins of Molecular Biology. Science 168, 664–669 (1970).
Weaver, Molecular Biology: Origin of the Term. Science 170, 581–582 (1970).
Errera, Forerunner of Molecular Biology. Science 171, 334–334 (1971).

References

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