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Of Measurements

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measurement n. 1. The act of measuring or the process of being measured. —TheFreeDictionary
measured adj. 1. Determined by measurement. —TheFreeDictionary

In honor of Pi Day of the Century, let’s play math nerd with that. First, we’ll take the “or” in the first definition at face value, allowing us to use the second part of that definition on its own: measurement can mean the process of being measured. Next we’ll perform a simple substitution, as is so common in our own definitions, giving us: measurement can mean the process of being determined by measurement. Which, by further extension, yields: measurement can mean the process of being determined by the process of being determined by the process of being determined by the process of being determined by . . . measurement, . . . which can mean the process . . . . Oh, hello there, π! Fancy you showing up.

Probably, a “measurement” by that meaning is simply a “definition,” and “measured” in that sense means “defined.” Or perhaps a “measurement” by that meaning is simply a “confinement,” and “measured” in that sense means “confined.” Eh? No, I’m not being silly or obtuse. The point is, without the information provided by the real definitions for “measurement” and “measured,” those first definitions given by TheFreeDictionary are rather useless, giving no bearing for knowing exactly what a measurement or being measured are really about. And since one needs to know the information given by the other definitions, those others should precede the definitions given first; that is, if TheFreeDictionary even does decide that there is an act or process that is best defined by such circular reasoning, that ought only come after we have some sense of what a measure even is. Is it a cat? Is it a religious belief? Is it anything at all outside the circle?

Ah, but you get what you pay for with something that has “free” in its name, right? Hmmmm, perhaps not by any measurement easily found. For if we resort to a higher authority of the likes of the OED, we find a very similar construct. The first definition for “measurement” ia “the action or an act of measuring” and the first definition under “measuring” is “the action of the vb. measure; the process of taking measurements.” Aha, now we can finally escape our loop!! We need only resort to the core definition behind it all: “measure”!! The first definition of which, according to OED, is “the action or process of measuring, measurement.” Say what?! Oh wait, that’s the noun “measure”; we want the verb, the first definition for which is “to regulate, moderate, restrain.” Surely that can’t be right, is it? After all that, “measurement” means “regulation,” and “measuring” means “regulating.” I’d wearily turn to the definitions for “regulate,” but I fear that might tell me I first have to “measure” before I can regulate what I have measured . . . if only I knew whether that means something other than “measure” means to “learn the meaning of.”

Like with TheFreeDictionary, one needs to delve as far as the second definition of the verb “measure” in OED to finally get a handle on it: “to ascertain or determine the spatial magnitude or quantity of (something); properly, by the application of some object of known size or capacity.” Oh? By OED, “some” object is ok, as long as its capacity is known (begging the issue that for its own value to have been known, it had to have been measured). Like, as in using a measuring cup to determine how tall I am, perhaps? OK, not to persist in having to be defensive about silly pettiness, but even there the OED is missing very essential information, that the application must be not merely by “some” object, but rather by an object appropriate to the quantity being judged. That’s not a casual point. If one is going to define the term, it’s a matter that is essential to the definition, else why even bother? Seriously, one has to question what the purpose of a dictionary such as the OED even is, if critical pieces are absent from a definition.

In my dictionary, there would be no circular definitions at all. Not even extended circles, such as if “regulate” did point to something else that did point to something else that did point to something else that did point to “measure.” If we define things by circles, we cannot possibly truly communicate or know what is meant.

But I digress. I know what measurement is anyway, right? So what even possessed me, to get off on some irrelevant rant ragging on the likes of TheFreeDictionary and the OED?

Let’s just say that recently I was scouring all our local office supply stores hunting for 2-sided ruled 3×5 index cards. Or did I want 5×3 index cards? Under “measurement,” my Fowler’s Modern English Usage points out that for such double measurements, our colleagues in England would give the larger number first.

But I digress. That was something left over from when I wanted those 2-sided ruled index cards to help me rehearse for another role in a local drama production. Which was successfully staged last week, so until I want 2-sided index cards for any similar occasions in the future, index card measurements have become irrelevant, however defined or whatever order in which they might be expressed.

Perhaps I was getting up the courage to hit the bars and ask strange women for their measurements? Ummm, no, but although a poke at a quick search engine can easily turn up “celebrity measurements” and the like, and although surely just about every modern adult (even adolescent) male and female on the planet knows exactly what I would mean by that plural of the term, even get a visual for certain numbers that might be given, why pray tell does that very specific definition fail to appear in TheFreeDictionary, in my OED, or in any dictionary I’ve checked into, including the Urban Dictionary? And I’m itching to ask my Fowler’s usage guide, do the British give those particular measurements bottom-up?

But I digress. I haven’t ever paid any attention to those particular measurements. My interest in numbers has always been with other matters in mind, and my interest in women has never been subject to any measure whatsoever.

So let’s just say Pi Day of the Century put me up to it. Can we determine the measurement of π? Sure, we can! Just, don’t try doing so by any “application” hinted at in those dictionaries, no matter how circular their vague definitions are. No, measurement of π requires a more pure understanding of the appropriate “object of known size” — in this instance, the dimension of a simple line segment, together with the points equidistant from one end of that line segment. Presto, the measuring of π!

But I digress. Actually, Pi Day of the Century by coincidence simply happens to have come at a moment when I am once again musing over the adsurdity of the “measurement” assumptions used to “determine” the obligations reported for pensions and other post-employment benefits. Let’s just say that the circles given by some of our dictionary’s definitions are quite mild compared to the snakes eating their own tails in the manner used to set a number to contingent future amounts.

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Written by macheide

11 March 2015 at 3:42 pm

Posted in whatev

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