Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the word, 'theory'


The Japanese language has two separate words equivalent to the two usages of the English word, 'theory'.


理論 [RI-RON]
A system of knowledge built on logic to systematically and uniformly explain individual phenomena. In addition, a purely logical knowledge corresponding to practice.


説 [SE-TSU]
1. A principle (belief) or claim for certain things.
2. Rumor.


I tried to translate the Japanese definitions as faithfully as I can into English. The first word, 'ri-ron', is equivalent to the scientific usage of the English word, 'theory' (as in 'the theory of evolution' or 'the theory of relativity'), while the second word, 'se-tsu', is equivalent to the common usage (more like 'I have a theory!'). Setsu doesn't need to be substantiated and can be wild claims.


It's a shame the English language doesn't have two separate words; we can avoid a lot of confusion.

4 comments:

dinogami said...

It's a shame the English language doesn't have two separate words; we can avoid a lot of confusion.

It does--"theory" is correct in, say, "theory of evolution" or "germ theory of disease" or "theory of plate tectonics." The correct word for the common "usage" of "theory" is, in many instances, "hypothesis"; in other instances, it's "guess" or "supposition."

Raptor's Nest said...

I'm well aware of that, but the general public doesn't seem to be. The two Japanese words are distinct to begin with.

Raptor's Nest said...

Plus, the English word, 'theory' actually can be used in the sense of 'hypothesis' and still be correct. But the Japanese word 'ri-ron' cannot be correctly used in the meaning 'hypothesis'; nor can 'se-tsu' be correctly used as 'theory'.

dinogami said...

the English word, 'theory' actually can be used in the sense of 'hypothesis' and still be correct.

It can, but it shouldn't, just the same way that I could call a TV show a "movie" (it is a moving picture, after all), but shouldn't. Just because everyone does something incorrectly does not, per force, make it correct!