A Love of Language

I love the Oxford English Dictionary. I am not ashamed to admit it. I considered asking for it as a college graduation present (although I considered a car more useful). It lays bare the definitions and history of English words in all their etymological glory. Given the sheer audacity of trying to capture the entirety of the language, it is not surprising that one contributor sent his submissions from with the walls of an asylum for the criminally insane. Within the pages of the OED it is easy to see that words have a beauty and history apart from the message they are trying to deliver. It also easy to see how slippery words and their usage can be.

  • Sometimes jargon is used to obscure or elevate language (see: Education Jargon Generator)
  • Sometimes terms are applied too broadly or misappropriated (see: Gardner Campbell tries to recapture the idea of “open” in MOOCs, KQED’s Project-based Learning article)
  • Sometimes words go so far down the rabbit hole that they only make sense to the person saying them (for a brilliant example see: Monty Python and more Monty Python-slightly NSWF).

As part of our #etmooc task, I needed to define digital literacy. Fortuitously, I stumbled across this Twitter conversation:

In this struggle to craft a definition of digital literacy, I was reminded of a quote by Stuart Kauffman, “definitions are neither true nor false; they are useful or useless.” The primary issue is how will we use our definition of digital literacy? Will it help define a set of skills or a particular disposition? Will it categorize things that fit the definition and those that do not? Will it inspire learners to understand and interact with greater facility. John Seely Brown says understanding is socially constructed. No definition exists in vacuum. It takes collective understanding and application for a definition to be of use.

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