19.652 a "grand challenge"

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 14 Mar 2006 07:24:00 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 652.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 14 Mar 2006 07:19:23 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: timeo Danaos et nova loquentes

This begins as an enquiry about the proper home, and so baggage, of
the phrase "grand challenge", which I have now twice encountered in
writings connected with humanities computing. As far as I can
determine, its proper home, i.e. where its implications are not so
strange, is either automobile racing or computer science, i.e. fields
in which winning or solving is how success gets measured. It's one of
those things we could call a shibboleth -- not by the pronunciation
but by the mere uttering thereof a foreigner betrays him- or herself.
Or more accurately, what may be betrayed is insensitivity to a
phenomenon of language by which borrowed words and expressions bring
with them, like a lingering smell (as of smoke from a pub), something
of what they meant in their former environment. J.R. Firth famously
declared that, "you shall know a word by the company it keeps" (A
Synopsis of Linguistic Theory, 1930-55, ed. Palmer 1968, p. 179) --
or in this case, kept but a short time ago. Adopt a new word or
phrase at your peril?

It's not that verbal borrowing is wrong or necessarily perilous. What
else is a new field like ours to do? We need ways of talking about
our experience, which in part is experience with computing, an
experimental instrument &c. New fields, it seems, have always reached
for terminology from elsewhere. Rather the caution is against opening
the gates to an apparently beneficial object without seeing what it's
about, and then, as in the story, going to sleep.

So, please look around for the phrase "grand challenge" and similar
such newcomers and report back, if you will, in what prose they have
bedded down, what work they seem to be up to.

Comments about this sort of thing?


Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Tue Mar 14 2006 - 02:54:24 EST

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