In a previous post I said that I wouldn't be prepared to argue with a judge about the difference in semantic scope between the use in technical, legal and general contexts of the word 'murder'. The reason is that a judge is very unlikely to see that, beyond the highly charged and specific meaning that it has in his field, it might be used by other people at other times in a rather looser sense.
This is a very common problem, as can be seen from this comment thread on the Wikipedia article 'Ape'. It's very long and it all gets very confused, they start again several times and they still haven't reached any kind of conclusion after all these years. Note that nobody, at any point, is arguing about the taxonomy of Homo sapiens, the entire dispute is about the meaning of the word 'ape'. Most of the participants assume that the way they use it is the only correct one, and that anyone who suggests otherwise is a bit stupid. At different times a couple of reasonable people, who have seen the problem, try to explain it and to mediate. They are shouted down, lose their tempers themselves, and get banned.
The debate is complicated by the fact that many of the participants have a profound horror being seen to pander to creationsim, and so will not recognise that in general use people tend to mean non-human hominoidea when they speak of 'apes'. This is a simple matter of fact, but since most of the major contributors are involved in the field of hominid research they are used to using 'ape' in an inclusive sense, and do not realize that most people don't.* Add the fear of God and they come across as rather stupid, blinkered people.
As I said, the argument is not about what humans are; it is purely about the meaning of the word 'ape'. Few of the contributors appreciate that context is everything, and no attempt is made to establish what the context actually is. Such is the absurdity that the slanging match has reached that the more benighted of them have refused even to countenance a clarification in the introduction, explaining the sense in which the word is used in the body of the article, because to recognise that some people might understand it differently might be seen as pandering to fundamentalism. In other words, the inability to see beyond their own idiolect has led to an encyclopedia article refusing to define its own name.
Specialists often fall into this trap, of not appreciating that words which to them have a technical meaning are used by others in non-technical senses. This is true even of words that were coined for specialist fields and then leak into general use, and it is much truer of words that were taken from common language are applied in particular fields to clearly defined concepts.
No, I didn't get involved in the row. I saw immediately what the problem was and that no one was going to listen however carefully I explained it.
*Even this isn't true. I'm not an expert in any relevant field, but I am a very interested amateur in palaeoanthroplogy, and I read a lot of papers by experts and specialists, researchers and academics working in the field who are fully au fait with the state of our knowledge of the origin of Homo sapiens and have absolutely no religious axe to grind. On many occasions it is possible to read the phrase 'apes and humans', or to see 'ape' used when the context clearly shows that they are excluding humans. They are quite obviously not trying to suggest that woman was made from man's rib, they are just relaxed about the whole thing and only specify more precisely when there is a need to be unambiguous.
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