Thursday, November 27, 2008

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!


tesheighs said...
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foxblacktree said...

I read "explain" in the opposite way: from what is flat, blankly uniform, shapeless, one by explaining draws out the significant features and forms. A problem is very difficult to get a hold on when all its aspects are jumbled together and indistinct, but a good explanation highlights, separates, distinguishes.