Monday, June 21, 2010

Dubious Origins of the Word "Seminal"

In retrospect, I really should have realized a long time ago that the origin of the word "seminal" is dubious.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a letter in APS News commenting on why the word "seminal" shouldn't be used in formal publications, and I can definitely understand the point that the author is making. I don't agree with the conclusion---the word "seminal" is hardly alone in this respect---but it's at the very minimum worth pausing and thinking about it.

And, in case you haven't figured it out yet, seminal originally meant to be of seed or semen rather than full of possibilities (and 'foundational', which seems to be the current predominant meaning).

Sowing the seeds of science, indeed. (Yes, that song by Tears for Fears was indeed seminal---in at least three senses of the word, and I would arguably include a fourth if you want to include the music video.)

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