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Subject: Terminology


From: George Brock-Nannestad <pattac<-at->
Date: Monday, May 4, 2009
Jennifer Barnett <reginatextilia [at] orange__fr> writes

>During a current revision job, I was confronted with the term 'life
>expectancy' applied to paper archive objects and set to searching
>for an accurate alternative for this incorrect term: objects are not
>alive. Therefore they are also incapable of 'suffering', often used
>as a term in textile conservation, but that is another issue though
>probably connected to this one.

I sympathise very much with your wish for consistent and correct
terminology. Since we use terminology and classification to create
order in our respective universes it is of utmost importance that it
be correctly applied and that the second level of experience--that
of cause and effect--does not become muddled due to imprecise
terminology. Sloppy terminology, bad logic, and bad translations
agitate me greatly.

I have been active in the creation of multilingual thesauri and
international documents for recommended practices since the early
1970s, but latterly the importance of thesauri seems to have been
diluted. It would appear that the enormous increase in capacity of
data processing to go through masses of text promotes the use of
natural language for information searching. This is a pity, because
a good thesaurus is also a good organiser of phenomena and

In recent international "standardisation" work in one particular NGO
I became so completely disillusioned by the officially and openly
tolerated lack of stringency in expression (due to politics or
perhaps mere indifference?), that I have severed my association with
this particular organisation after more than 25 years of active

However, I do not have a problem with the concept of "life" when
dealing with items for preservation and conservation. The use of the
term does not have anything to do with biological life, but rather
whether the items may usefully interact with us in our professional
lives. As an example I will take radioactive substances of nature.
"The terminology that developed around these substances is telling
in this respect. They are said to be "active" - radioactive--and
then, for instance, they have a "half-life," and they decay" (a
direct quote from Hans-Jorg Rheinberger: "Precarious Substances: A
Brief Commentary", in: Viola Balz, Alexander v. Schwerin, Heiko
Stoff, Bettina Wahrig (eds.): Precarious Matters / Prekare Stoffe.
The History of Dangerous and Endangered Substances in the 19th and
20th Centuries, Max-Planck-Institut fur Wissenschaftsgeschichte,
Preprint 356. 2008, p. 184).

I think that this utilitarian approach could then be displayed by
using a term like: "expected useful service life" for the expression
you quote as "life expectancy"

I would definitely welcome a discussion of terminology, because that
is also a discussion of how we perceive phenomena.

George Brock-Nannestad

                  Conservation DistList Instance 22:64
                   Distributed: Tuesday, May 5, 2009
                       Message Id: cdl-22-64-009
Received on Monday, 4 May, 2009

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