Just a quick thought today.

Last weekend I went camping with some friends on Lake George – it was a beautiful restful weekend free of electronics (hence the late blog entry).

As I was relaxing at the campsite I looked around at all the trees and recalled learning all their names in gradeschool. Ironwood, poplar, spruce, etc…

I kept thinking to myself – why is it so important to learn the “proper” name of trees? There’s nothing inherently “poplar-y” about a poplar tree? What does it matter what we call them?

The reason we teach grade school children the correct names of tress is so they can live and survive in our society – living under our rules (rules that were established by people the came before them). But is that good enough reason to force everyone to use the same names for trees? Just because someone else came first and named them?

What if there was truly a better way to name trees? – we will never find out if we keep forcing children to memorize the “proper” names at a young age.

Learning the Names of Trees
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  • I’m sure there’s a better taxonomy, but not a *much* better one.

    Also, arbitrary names are easier to remember… even if they’re not easier to deduce. I think; I’d have to check that.

    One could also make the cultural argument; e.g. that attempting to continually reinvent things for marginal improvements that affect few people’s lives discards our culture. And makes it harder to read literature from back in the day, before the new system was invented.

  • I agree – that there is a definite value in having everyone conform to the same conventions – even if they could be improved (I think that’s probably why we all type on QWERTY keyboard which were originally designed to keep typewriter hammers from getting stuck together – but who wants to re-learn how to type?)

    My point here is that our culture puts a lot of emphasis on doing things the same way as the prior generation. My paternal grandmother couldn’t say more than three words to me without correcting my grammar or telling me how I’ve misused a word. But who’s to say that her understanding of grammar was any better than mine? Today we use words based on how they’re defined in the dictionary – but originally – when the first dictionaries were written – the meaning of words recorded based on how people used them.