Friday, May 27, 2005


a new taxonomy

Information architects revel in taxonomies. If you are an "IA", I have an idea for a new taxonomy that might be fun to see developed.

I've always been a fan of "interdisciplinary" thinking -- how ideas from one domain can be applied to another. What I would like is to be able to sort words by their domain of use. For example, what words are common to both the fields of architecture and ecology? One example would be niche. It would be interesting to have a capability to trace etymologically which field borrowed from the other. For example, give me sociological terms that have been adopted by the legal profession. Or give me botany terms that have be mainstreamed with a meaning more general than the original technical meaning.

People often borrow words from other fields, because they offer inspiration, or because it is the "best available" existing word to describe something new (this is especially true in some other languages such as Chinese). Common words, different meanings. It could be enlightening to see how these meanings morph, became bastardized, even how entire fields suffer misunderstanding by the public (evolution, for example).

This information exists in dictionaries today, but requires one to look on a word-by-word basis. The trick would be to liberate the information electronically, allow browsing and dynamic queries, but avoid the disappointment of "no hits" when one tries to find terms common to baseball and volcanology.

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