Sunday, January 30, 2011

Training Words, Or I'd never thought of it that way...

My wife and I were driving back from New York last week listening to a piece on either CBC or NPR on the relationships between humans and dogs. One of the experts mentioned how easy and natural it is to "tame puppies" and went on to say that it's so easy that we find it odd to say "tame puppies."

Thinking about it, he was right: We don't think of that initial period we spend with our companion animals as a matter of converting them from wild creatures to domestic, companion animals. It made me think about other word combinations that made me sit up and take notice. Switching from "fugitive slaves" to "escaping slaves" in talking of the American, pre-Civil War South removes the suggestion in "fugitive" that the slaves were running away from some justifiable imprisonment. When discussing Jews and Germans during the Holocaust, the switch from "killed" to "murdered", eliminates the suggestion that the regime had a right to put Jews to death.

It made me think of other combinations that apply to my work. I've tried to stop using the word "student" in favour of "participant," for instance, though I'm not sure my practice as an instructor reflects that terminology. What word would replace "teaching",or "explaining"? The issue is that the relationship between the subject and object is wrong "I teach participants" or "I explain to readers" has me doing something to others, when, in fact, all the work is done by the other party. "Facilitate," I suppose, but the word has been overused.

So what is it that readers/participants do? They "learn", I suppose, and "come to understand". So is what happens in technical writing (explaining) and in the classroom, "participants understand"? But that leaves out the teacher/writer altogether. It's a puzzlement.                         

Reading or read

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