Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hiatus v. lacuna

I expected that my return after nearly 9 months of silence would be with the word hiatus. An appropriate word. But I got inspired by the previous comparison of explain v. define. However, not to miss my return word, I give you:

Hiatus comes from the Latin for "hiare" for "to gape open". Of course, this began with a physical opening, but from clefts and fissures in organs and body parts to missing pages in manuscript, it came to be applied to the intangible c. 1613 as an interruption of an event or missing information in a sequence to just something anticipated which is missing. Meanwhile, its obvious comparison is lacuna, coming from the Latin "lacuna" for "a ditch, pit or hole", and although it also came to be applied to missing information in a sequence, this is an existing deficiency, of something that was never present.

There has been a hiatus in my regular blog definitions due to my overwhelming rehearsal schedule and the needs of two kittens. Yes in usage and yes in context. I apologize for the latter. Note that this is written in third-person, because I am not the gap but rather that the gap occurs to things relative to a sequence that I create. Arguably, I have been on sabbatical, but that's another word for another time when I've been away. There has not been a lacuna in my regular blog entries as that would imply that something was supposed to be there which was not. I try to write these as often as I can, but that does not presuppose that I am required to write them; therefore, it is only an anticipated lacking, not an actual lacking or deficiency. The third-party perspective is also required for lacuna, as I am not the deficiency, but the event or thing has the deficiency. Plaintiff's counsel's opposition to my motion had a lacuna in his argument which caused the Court to rule in my favor. Yes. Here the missing thing was required and therefore, the fictional argument was deficient. Perhaps the lacuna was due to a hiatus in his concentration? Yes, since there is no requirement that he has to continue to concentrate in order to write the motion--he could just be incompetent. So, hiatus is missing something hoped for and lacuna is missing something which should have been there.

Of course, both words apply to sentient activities (e.g., argument, thinking) and not just intangible activites of people (e.g., music, sleeping) or information created by people (e.g., pages in a book, assembly lines). There was a lacuna in the production line at the widget plant due to the daydreaming, a veritable hiatus of thought, by the worker. Ok, simple and easy, although it does appear that lacuna is applied more to the tangibles and hiatus to the intangibles. Let's try to flip them. An unexpected hiatus in the music occurred when the concert master broke a string. Ok. And, a lacuna in her acceptance speech was due to an uncontrollable emotional outburst. Ok, so they do work both ways, even if I did stretch the lacuna usage a bit. Was it really a deficiency, of something missing, or just a big pause? Maybe it is better stated that there was a lacuna in her acceptance speech due to censoring or a sudden interruption by the Emergency Testing System? Yeah, that works. This does tend imply that in a lacuna situation you don't get the missing part back, whereas in a hiatus, it resumes where it left off after the delay. A cliffhanger ending of a television series which is renewed next season is on hiatus, while the movie missing the second reel is a lacuna. A rain delay after the 5th inning is a hiatus when the game resumes; but a game ended by rain before the 5th inning had a lacuna until it was rescheduled (since, for those of you who are not baseball fans, the game could not have been a complete game, and will, therefore, be replayed). I remember when I learned this word in high school I used it to apply to the space on a page while you were waiting for the white out to dry, but kept writing the rest of the sentence after it. It was a lacuna in the text in the one truest sense. And although there is no formal requirement from the definition for there to be a sequence, the implied current usage seems to require continuity interrupted, rather than mere abstract existence of the missing element.

Can we use these words without superimposing continuity? She fell into the lacuna at the construction site and sued for her broken ankle. This is completely accurate from its Latin meaning and just dumb. The real question should be how do we know that something is missing unless we can see the stuff around it to infer where the thing should have been? Doesn't that require a degree of continuity? How else do you define the hole? The dentist discovered a lacuna in her tooth. Yep, again, just dumb. This word is "cavity", which is technically a lacuna, but would be absurd to use this way. So, I would venture that lacuna would require some degree of continuity. I have less of a problem requiring continuity of hiatus since that word comes from "to gape open" which itself implies action that changes, as opposed to a pre-existing condition.

So, now, let's see where the edges of usage are. We know the words apply to sequences created by people; can they be applied to sequences created by cats or computers. There was a hiatus in her drinking when I entered the room. Possibly, but only if my cat starts drinking again regardless of my standing there. This is a still a stretch to use this word, when the real word is "pause". So let's really have fun and see how absurd lacuna is with my cat... Yeah, I give. My cat had a lacuna in her bathing which left a bit of ungroomed hair behind her left ear. Bizarre, but technically correct. If a caterpillar could metamorphose into a butterfly without going through the chrysalis stage, would that be a lacuna? Theoretically speaking, maybe, but is it really a deficiency in an expected progression or just a different type of progression. The problem may be that I can't really expect anything out of my cat that a lacuna would arise. Does my cat have some responsibility that she could be deficient? She is starting to come when I call her, but it is not a duty; just a convenience for her for petting. So, if it is an activity, there must be sentience ascribed to the completion of that activity for the lacuna to have deficiency. Now, as for hiatus, anticipation inherently requires sentience, to hope for the activity to resume, which through a degree of anthropomorphism, I can ascribe more readily. She hopes to resume bathing/eating/sleeping after the brief hiatus caused by my presence. I get that scowl all the time, so I know that thought is there.

As for computers, since these activities are merely extensions of activities of people, there's more play with lacuna. The computer had a lacuna when compiling the computer code. Essentially, the computer is only doing the work it was programed to do, much like the production line at the widget factory, which could have just as easily been a malfunctioning robotic arm as a daydreaming assembly worker. There was a hiatus in the computer's processing due to a brown out. It still feels like an object rather than ascribing artificial intelligence or anthropomorphism. Anyway, no harm, no foul on either word.

So, let there be no lacunas to my blog--I don't want that kind of responsibility--and may the next hiatus be shorter!

Explain v. define

I am enjoying my time with the daughter of a friend, Julie, and we came upon this comparison.

Explain derives from the Latin "ex" for "out or from" and "planarum" for "a flat surface". So how does this get us to anything making sense, whether figuratively or literally? Well, perhaps, when we explain, we "flatten" out a problem so that both sides understand. Works for me. Define comes from the Latin "de" for "of or out of" and "finire" for "to finish", which is to say that define is the final thought on a word while this gives the implication that to explain is open-ended.

She tried to explain to her sister why she read her diary. Yes. Absolutely. Of course this would be something that would require lots of further explanation, and not be the end of the discussion. Many different reasons, possibly even evolving reasons as the discussion continues. She will be explaining reading her sister's diary for quite a while, as I doubt her sister will ever understand. Also, correct, both usage and in substance. As a result of reading her sister's diary, her sister stated the definition for what is private. Yes, because the definition is concrete and not subjection to interpretation. Plaintiff's counsel explained to the Court why the opposition to the motion was late, but the definition of the rule for timely filing was clear. Obviously, people can explain and define as well as other animates such as these beings exhibit human characteristics and certain tangibles such as these are activities of people. Inanimates do not explain or define. The wind does not explain the weather, nor does it define the air. Not even metaphorically. The wind may portend weather and describe the air, but even "define" is pretty sketchy. DD does a poor job of defining words, and leaves many usages for outside explanation. My kittens cannot explain their needs to me, except by scratching, mewing and purring, and even then, I don't have a definition of what these signals mean. Yes.

I am looking forward to explaining the usage of more words as I define the difference of various alleged synonyms. Thank you for your patience!