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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

The fact that we are allowing ourselves to manipulate the English language in order to engage in an incorruptible crusade against the barometer does not concern most people.  Although, truth be told, most things do not concern most people.  And if what follows seems unnecessarily overprotective of a piece of equipment more familiar to a 6th grade student taking a course in Earth Science than a college educated professional, it is because I believe it is our duty to advocate on behalf of those that cannot advocate on behalf of themselves.

Even if those things are barometers.

The issue with barometers — which is not about barometers so much as “barometers” — will probably remind you of the devolution of language I wrote about a year ago, otherwise known as literally the worst problem in the world.

And away we go!

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A simple question: What is a barometer?

If you look in a dictionary (which you probably would not do for two related reasons: first, you probably do not own an actual dictionary; and second, we tend nowadays to look “at” dictionaries — on a computer screen — as opposed to “in” physical, paper-based dictionaries), you will find two basic definitions for barometer:

  1. A scientific tool that indicates change in atmospheric pressure
  2. A thing that indicates change in something

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In other words, there are two separate (but unequal!) ways to use the word.  Examples:

  1. Definition 1: A good barometer of weather will accurately measure air pressure.
  2. Definition 2 (example 1): A good barometer of weather are the clothes you see people wearing outside.
  3. Definition 1 & 2: This discussion of barometers is a barometer of whether you would describe me as insufferable.

This dual definition is completely unfair to the lowly barometer.  The fact that the word means both “a device that measures something very specific” and “a device that measures anything in particular” is an uncaring slap in the barometer’s faceplate.  In the same way that we primarily use the word “ton” to mean “a lot” and very rarely use it the way the word was originally intended (“a weight measure equal to 2000 pounds”), we are taking efficient, hyper-specific language and muddying the waters by using it in a way that unfortunately removes the specificity.

Besides, don’t we want to give special reverence to the device that allows weatherpersons throughout the land to forecast temperatures with pinpoint accuracy?

We do.

Thought Experiment Time!

Imagine that you had a friend named John Doe.  There should be no doubt that you would feel copious amounts of empathy for this person because their name refers to them, but also, in theory, anyone else.  And if you cared deeply for your friend John Doe — and if you had the power to make this kind of change — you would without question make sure that the name “John Doe” would no longer be used to describe any miscellaneous person.

It’s just not fair.

And just as the actual John Doe’s of the world should be allowed to live a life where their name refers only to the person who embodies it, so too should the barometer.  Though we may be inclined to ignore the device, especially in favor of its cousin the thermometer, we should carelessly not dilute the value of its name.

“Baro” and “meter” roughly translate from their Greek origin to mean “weight measure,” so the generic framing of the word does actually make linguistic sense; but it still seems fair that the air pressure device be given primary access to the only word that we have to describe it.  Or you can go on with your life, completely unsympathetic to the plight of the barometer.  I can’t make you do anything, so no pressure.

But if you do feel pressure — and I am sorry if that is the case — you can confirm your hypothesis with one of those trusty, underappreciated barometers.

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