Get this. On a whim one day–-OK, I’m working on a project–I decide to look up the word “mother” in my trusty Living Webster dictionary. The good book offers several obvious definitions, such as:
“The female who gives birth to a child.”
“A female parent.”
“Something that gives rise to, or exercises protective care over something else.” (A bit utilitarian for me, though I can see how the authors meant for this to apply to both the human and animal kingdoms.)
“The qualities characteristic of a mother.” (Now, doesn’t that say it all?)
But then the book offers this definition of mother. It’s in a separate section immediately below.
“A thick slimy substance composed of bacteria that gathers on the surface of fermenting liquids and produces fermentation, especially in changing wine or cider to vinegar.
I understand that science needs access to the language just like every other discipline. But you’d think that practitioners would use a little discretion, or at least common sense, when crafting words for their use. Indeed, that’s the key: create a new word. Or at a minimum, don’t use one that has such a meaning and a place in our lives. If they must use a word pertaining to humans, why not “boss”? I’m sure many people would swear their bosses are a “slimy substance.” Don’t pick on Mom.
And for all you English majors and students of the late William F. Buckley, Jr.: Yes, I know the word “mother” has foreign roots (German, according to my book). And although it’s pronounced the same whether used to talk about your parent or your petri dish, I imagine that the German root word was either spelled or pronounced differently. So perhaps the current definition doesn’t reflect changes over time.
Even so, you’d think someone-–perhaps at a famous winery–would step forward with a new term the scientists can use. And allow “mother” to retain its rightful place in our hearts.
Are you taking a vacation soon? Check out this column: “Packing for a vacation? Here are some suggestions.” Note the related column referenced there, as well as the others mentioned at the end.
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