Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue Apr 25 16:17:16 UTC 2006

On Apr 24, 2006, at 3:16 PM, John Baker wrote:

> ... I'm perfectly well aware
> that physicians use "abortion" to refer to both spontaneous abortions
> (miscarriages) and induced abortions, but I think I would have
> given the
> same answer the patient gave, unless it was clear that both kinds of
> abortions were intended.  In its ordinary lay meaning, "abortion"
> refers
> only to an induced abortion.

my feeling as well.  perhaps the patient did *not* know about the
broader medical usage of "abortion", but (like john baker and others
who have written here) i do and would still have been misled by the
question.  specialists dealing with non-specialists have to expect to
take their audience into account, either by explaining their usages
when necessary or by using terms the way their audience would.

so i would not expect a botanist to ask me if i grew any flowering
green plants that didn't have woody stems and died to the ground in
winter by saying "do you grow any herbs?"  if a botanist did ask me
that question, my answer would assume that rosemary is an herb
(though it's not a flowering green plant that etc. etc.) and that
lilies-of-the-valley are not (though they are flowering green plants
that etc. etc.).  i know the botanical usage of "herb", but i expect
to come across it only in contexts entirely within botany.


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