Dadamac Definitions

Dadamac definitions are going to help me solve a problem with words.

The problem

Words are "slippery" things - hard to get a firm hold on for any length of time. They have different meanings in different contexts. Some have regional variations - check out the Cornish use of the words "maid" and "lover".  Meanings change over time - what about "gay", "cool" and "wicked"?

By writing a dadamac definition I'm giving myself permission to make a word mean what I say it means (while recognising that other people may have other ideas).

I'm not alone here

Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty would have understood:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'

Quote from "Through The Looking Glass" Chapter 6 by Lewis Carroll

Definitions bring their own problems

I looked up the quote in Sparknotes - where I found more of the story, and some analysis:

"Humpty Dumpty redefines the meanings of words at will, but he must use other words that have presumably stable meanings to explain the new definitions."

Hmm - good point. Definitions are tricky too. I may rely more on illustrating the meanings of words through examples and contitual personal use than by attempting to define them.

(Dis)agreement about meanings

Our experiences are too varied for words to hold the same meaning for everyone. Mindfulness exercises often make this point. "Unplugged" conversations (on a Wednesday with Tony Hall on the South Bank) regularly return to the fact that we can't be in full agreement if we are using words.

When does it matter?

Most of the time the exact meaning of a word doesn't matter too much. It's okay if there is enough overlap for ideas to be exchanged and information to be shared.

Sometimes, however, a lack of accuracy causes confusion, which is why professional groups develop their own jargon. But I'm not a professional group. I'm just me. I need to tackle the confusion problem where it affects what I do.

Dadamac versions

To reduce confusion I'm starting to flag up a warning when I'm using a word in a context where the exact meaning does matter, and the context is relevant to dadamac.

Dadamac learners

I started some years back with "dadamac learners". I was tired of being misunderstood when I referred to my experiences of "learning online". I recognised that when other people responded to me they were thinking of something different. They were thinking of formal online courses, which is not what I was referring to at all.

It wasn't just the "online" aspect that was causing difficulty. If they were thinking of formal "book learning" and examinations then we didn't even mean the same thing by the word "learning". They meant "being taught" or "memorising things for an exam". I meant things that are much more personal and demand-driven, like being curious about something and then finding out, or needing a skill and practicing it. (I've written about this in a chapter in Teaching and Learning Online)

There are times and places for deep conversations on the theory of education and learning, but sometimes it's easier to have a short-cut, and this is mine. We accept that we don't mean the same thing by the word, but that my meaning is a possibility. We don't need to discuss it further. We can agree to differ in our usage. The other person can claim the moral high-ground and the "true meaning of the word". I'll admit I'm using it in an idiosyncratic way, and pop the adjective "dadamac" in front of it to flag that up i.e. "learner" (in formal educational context, being taught, etc) or "dadamac learner" (the meaning in my context). 

A useful adjective

Using "dadamac" as an adjective has proved useful with "dadamac learner". I may start to do the same with other words that are causing confusion in my communication. "Work", "collaboration" and "value" are amongst those jostling for position in the "confusion queue" of words that I might find easier to use if they had the dadamac definition treatment.