Thursday, September 04, 2014


The Passion for Naming Things

George Gaylord Simpson (1902-1984), Attending Marvels: A Patagonian Journal (1934; rpt. New York: Time Incorporated, 1965), pp. 155-156:
The passion for naming things is an odd human trait. It is strange that men always feel so much more at ease when they have put appellations on the things around them and that a wild, new region almost seems familiar and subdued once enough names have been used on it, even though in fact it is not changed in the slightest. Or, on second thought, it is perhaps not really strange. The urge to name must be as old as the human race, as old as speech which is one of the really fundamental characteristics by which we rise above the brutes, and thus a basic and essential part of the human spirit or soul. The naming fallacy is common enough even in science. Many a scientist claims to have explained some phenomenon, when in truth all he has done is to give it a name.
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