A Way with Words

The other day I waxed indignant on Facebook when Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS, a Marine veteran, used the word “boat” to refer to a ship. It’s a common mistake that civilians make, but Gibbs, now working for the Navy, should know better. Besides, as a Marine veteran he’s no doubt made several cruises with an amphibious task force, although I don’t recall that he was with me on the two I made as a Navy radioman on a commodore’s staff.

Someone made the comment that it didn’t matter and pointed out—disdainfully—that some curators also wax indignant when people refer to a painting as a picture. As long as the communication is clear, what’s the issue, the person asked.

Clarity and precision.

A picture can be a painting, a photograph, a drawing, a petroglyph, etc. You get the picture. A painting is a picture with certain attributes, starting with how it was made.

The person asking the question fails to recognize general and specific terms. Let’s hope the FB discussion showed her the light.

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