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(Coffee) Shop Talk

Welcome to the shop where I talk about things that go well with coffee, which is almost everything.

I’ve been doing a lot of academic reading lately, and the stuff I read for my Knowledge Organization class is, as you might gather by the name, kind of abstract and dense. I honestly don’t mind things that are abstract and dense as long as, after I’ve read it three times, I realize that it does make sense and was worth the effort. What I DO mind is, after spending half an hour reading two pages, I realize that it’s not only abstract and dense but totally incorrect.

Specifically, I come across stuff to the effect of, “there is no real definition for data” or “anything can be considered information, including trees and antelopes.”

Wrong and wrong. The best part is that you don’t need a master’s degree in Information Science to figure that out. All you need is a dictionary.

The dictionary.com definition:

data –noun
. a pl. of datum.
.( used with a plural verb ) individual facts, statistics, or items of information: These data represent the results of our analyses. Data are entered by terminal for immediate processing by the computer.
.( used with a singular verb ) a body of facts; information: Additional data is available from the president of the firm.

See? Easy. No ten-page articles necessary. I think that’s pretty clear, concise, and most people would not take issue with it.

Now on to “anything can be information.” Well, let’s see what information actually is.

information–noun
.knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance; news: information concerning a crime.
.knowledge gained through study, communication, research, instruction, etc.; factual data: His wealth of general information is amazing.
.an office, station, service, or employee whose function is to provide information to the public: The ticket seller said to ask information for a timetable.
.Directory Assistance.

These are the uses of “information” in regular use (not special definitions for various academic fields, although those are also succinctly defined). You can see that it’s an abstract noun, like time or wealth or love, except colloquially when we use it to mean the office that gives out information. A piece of paper isn’t information. A lecture isn’t information, and trees and antelopes are certainly not information. They might be able to give you information, but unless they’re sitting beside a desk and answering a phone, that doesn’t qualify them to be called information themselves.

I spend so much time at my job trying to explain the concept of concepts to my ESL students, usually because I’m trying to explain why they do or don’t need articles (a, an, the) or why there’s no plural form of a noun. It’s pretty simple, basic grammar that most native English speakers don’t even have to think about.

Apparently, though, the rest of them have to write about it at great length in academic journals.

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