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Watch your Language: Consequences of Linguistic Uncertainty for Insect Management

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Cira, Theresa M.; Quick, Kathy ; Venette, Robert C.

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American Entomologist


This is a call to entomologists to consider the uncertainty introduced into our works through the language we use. Albert Einstein remarked, "Everything depends on the degree to which words and word-combinations correspond to the world of impression," which makes language a "dangerous source of error and deception" (Hawking 2007). Scientists usually research and deliberately choose the language they use to propose new concepts or terminology. Often, however, terms slip into the lexicon through less systematic means. Words may seem to have meanings so obvious that broad understanding of the term may be taken for granted, but individual contexts are diverse, and to assume that a word's meaning is unchanging across time and space is to overlook the uncertainties of language. Thus, communication through even the most common entomological vocabulary can fail. Language is a mutable, uncertain, and imperfect way of representing the world. Because language is integral to science and yet inherently imprecise, it is important for scientists to recognize and address uncertainty in the language of our works.


Cira, Theresa M.; Quick, Kathy; Venette, Robert C. 2019. Watch your Language: Consequences of Linguistic Uncertainty for Insect Management. American Entomologist. 65(4): 258-267.

Last updated on: December 19, 2019