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Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 4:04 pm UTC
by Heimhenge
I write educational content in science for ages middle-school and up. I was about to use the word "Sisyphean" in one post but then balked, wondering if people even recognize words derived from classic mythology anymore? I mean, sure, the truly curious and motivated would look up the meaning online, but I fear more would just skip over it, or try to guess the meaning from context at best.

And linking the word to its definition would seem condescending to the reader.

I'm pretty sure I could get away with "Herculean" or "Pandora's box" and maybe a couple others, but suspect the lack of classic mythology in most schools' curricula these days is kinda removing some good words from the language.

Wondering if it's worth trying to keep that flame lit, or perhaps I should just start talking more like "Calvin's dad." Opinions solicited, thanks.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 4:09 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
Keep it. If it teaches kids to use a dictionary, so much the better. No sense impoverishing the language for the sake of the lowest common denominator.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 4:36 pm UTC
by Deva
Votes to drop it. Did not know of Sisyphus or Sisyphean tasks in middle school. Seeks accessible language. Shifts the focus towards new vocabulary, not scientific concepts.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 4:45 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
Nonsense. "Accessible language" is a self-defeating goal (no words are inherently known, all language must be acquired, and the younger the better,) especially over such a trivial point as an unfamiliar metaphor.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 4:53 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
If it's such a trivial point, then why do you think it's so important to keep the inaccessible reference?

Also, the only nonsense here is your claim that accessible language is a self-defeating goal. The whole point of education is to build up knowledge, and you can't do that effectively if you act like students should already know everything you want to teach them.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 4:58 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
Contrariwise, you can't teach them if you're unwilling to introduce them to information they don't already know.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 5:01 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
I must have missed the part where the OP said the educational content was also intended to teach Greek mythology.

In any case, you don't generally introduce information by assuming students already know it.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 5:03 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
See, there's this thing where if students don't know something, they can ask or look it up? It's kind of an integral part of education?

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 5:08 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
So why not just teach them science with papers published in Nature?

There comes a point when adding more unfamiliar things they'll have to ask about becomes counterproductive, because the explanation is beyond the scope of the present endeavor and will amount to a waste of time that could be better spent teaching the science.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 5:11 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
gmalivuk wrote:There comes a point when adding more unfamiliar things they'll have to ask about becomes counterproductive, because the explanation is beyond the scope of the present endeavor and will amount to a waste of time that could be better spent teaching the science.

This is very true! I just think that, wherever that point is, a metaphor that's not even super obscure and easy to explain is probably well on the safe side of the line.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 5:19 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
Could be. What I called nonsense was your claim that accessible language is self-defeating. This particular bit of inaccessibility may be fine, depending on the context and how much other new material being presented at the same time.

But it's still potentially inaccessible, and that has to be something you consider when writing educational material.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 5:23 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
It's a fair point as far as the practical reality of writing educational material goes, but I do stand by my assertion that striving to avoid ever exposing students to terms they're unfamiliar with is an excellent way of ensuring that they never become familiar with them in the first place.

(And I don't buy the "it has nothing to do with the science, so leave it for English class" line of thought, either. The entire point behind metaphors is that they help enrich the reader's understanding of something by means of a comparison with something else.)

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 5:24 pm UTC
by Heimhenge
gmalivuk wrote:So why not just teach them science with papers published in Nature?

There comes a point when adding more unfamiliar things they'll have to ask about becomes counterproductive, because the explanation is beyond the scope of the present endeavor and will amount to a waste of time that could be better spent teaching the science.


Yeah, that was kinda my main question though I may not have expressed it clearly. There's plenty of metaphors common enough to use w/o worry, and I'd love to motivate these kids enough to look something up and really learn a new concept, but there's that middle ground where you might just lose them by being obscure. And sure, I write about science with no hidden agenda to teach mythology, but "Sisyphean" is a great word with no synonym to my knowledge. I could rewrite the sentence replacing it with its effective definition but that comes out kinda "wordy".

Appreciate all the feedback so far ... just wanted to jump back in to clarify my question.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 5:29 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
commodorejohn wrote:
striving to avoid ever exposing students to terms they're unfamiliar with is an excellent way of ensuring that they never become familiar with them in the first place.
True, but it's also not a thing anyone in this discussion has done or suggested.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Sun Aug 27, 2017 4:11 am UTC
by pogrmman
Heimhenge wrote:I write educational content in science for ages middle-school and up. I was about to use the word "Sisyphean" in one post but then balked, wondering if people even recognize words derived from classic mythology anymore?


You should use it. "Sisyphean" isn't all that unusual. It's also a wonderful word that doesn't really have any perfect synonym.

Even if they don't know the myth, it's better to give them a chance to learn the word than to try and avoid using it. I'd guess that most middle schoolers could probably figure out at least a pretty close meaning from the context (depending on what, exactly, the text is).

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Mon Aug 28, 2017 9:09 pm UTC
by Bloopy
Some kids will be able to retain a larger vocabulary size, so it's good to throw a few challenging words in for them. I'd say keep it.

Heimhenge wrote:"Sisyphean" is a great word with no synonym to my knowledge.

If it's in the context of a Sisyphean task, you could say insurmountable task, but I don't think there's a good synonym for Sisyphean effort.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Mon Aug 28, 2017 9:56 pm UTC
by Heimhenge
Bloopy wrote:Some kids will be able to retain a larger vocabulary size, so it's good to throw a few challenging words in for them. I'd say keep it.

Heimhenge wrote:"Sisyphean" is a great word with no synonym to my knowledge.

If it's in the context of a Sisyphean task, you could say insurmountable task, but I don't think there's a good synonym for Sisyphean effort.


Yeah, I thought about "insurmountable" and "arduous" and "hopeless" but it just ain't quite the same meaning. FYI, here's the sentence where I wanted to use it (discussing the practicality of a Maxwell's Demon for sorting particles):

The Demon would find that, after a point, given a finite time to react, for every fast particle allowed through the shutter there'd be previously-trapped fast particles escaping back into the lower temperature chamber. Achieving any further temperature difference would be a Sysyphean task."

If you understand the whole Maxwell's Demon concept, you'll see that "Sisyphean" is exactly the word to use. Based on the feedback here I've decided to go with my first inclination and will use that metaphor. Let the kids look it up, figure it out, and maybe learn something new. Thanks to all for the input.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Mon Aug 28, 2017 10:22 pm UTC
by Soupspoon
(It's all too easy to get the "quote and reply" button instead of the "re-edit my post" one. You seem to have done it repeatedly. Hopefully you got it right, eventually, and that it's not a Sisyphean task for you… ;))

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Mon Aug 28, 2017 10:44 pm UTC
by gmalivuk
I assumed the final post was the desired version and just deleted the earlier copies. (But yeah, we've all done the same thing before.)

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Mon Aug 28, 2017 10:50 pm UTC
by Heimhenge
gmalivuk wrote:I assumed the final post was the desired version and just deleted the earlier copies. (But yeah, we've all done the same thing before.)


Thank you sir. Exactly right. Somehow in the edits my quote markup nesting got confused. Much appreciated.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Mon Aug 28, 2017 10:52 pm UTC
by Heimhenge
Soupspoon wrote:(It's all too easy to get the "quote and reply" button instead of the "re-edit my post" one. You seem to have done it repeatedly. Hopefully you got it right, eventually, and that it's not a Sisyphean task for you… ;))


Point Soupspoon. :idea:

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:25 am UTC
by Bloopy
Heimhenge wrote:Yeah, I thought about "insurmountable" and "arduous" and "hopeless" but it just ain't quite the same meaning. FYI, here's the sentence where I wanted to use it (discussing the practicality of a Maxwell's Demon for sorting particles):

The Demon would find that, after a point, given a finite time to react, for every fast particle allowed through the shutter there'd be previously-trapped fast particles escaping back into the lower temperature chamber. Achieving any further temperature difference would be a Sysyphean task."


It's purely academic to contemplate it now, but in that sentence the next best alternative might be futile endeavour.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:50 pm UTC
by Quizatzhaderac
Heimhenge wrote:And linking the word to its definition would seem condescending to the reader.
If they actually need the link I wouldn't say it's condescending.

If we're talking about middle-schoolers, I wouldn't think they'd be so proud of their knowledge of Greek mythology that they'd be insulted by a link or a footnote implying that they might not know it.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Tue Jan 30, 2018 7:45 am UTC
by Ginger
I use the word "narcissism" all the time. And everyone knows what I mean. Then again... I hang out with highly... nerdy, geeky etcetera crowds. Et tu schoolchildren? </3

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Wed Jan 31, 2018 5:09 am UTC
by Eebster the Great
"Narcissism" is widely understood, even though most people don't know the myth of Narcissus. The fact that it is a common noun (spelled in lowercase) supports the case that it is just seen as another word. It is also something you see pretty often. "Sisyphean", on the other hand, is not widely understood and is always spelled with a capital S, referencing Sisyphus. I would be at least mildly surprised to find that someone knew the meaning of "Sisyphean" but had never heard the myth of Sisyphus.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Wed Jan 31, 2018 3:50 pm UTC
by Ginger
Myth of Narcissus.

Myth of Sisyphus, which... I misspell when I search for it. </3

Changes to both links to two stories that actually talks about Narcissus and Sisyphus and not, like, the meanings and feels behind their respective myths.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Wed Jan 31, 2018 5:16 pm UTC
by Eebster the Great
That's the absurdist essay drawing a parallel between human life and the myth of Sisyphus and arguing that the purpose of philosophy is to give a reason not to commit suicide. I was just talking about the actual character from Greek mythology.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Wed Jan 31, 2018 6:26 pm UTC
by Ginger
LOLs that my bads totally. I change the links' texts to give, a, real version of the myth of Sisyphus. Hopefully the original Wiki links in my myth of Narcissus... actually talks about him or else... I changes that too? <3

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Wed Jan 31, 2018 7:16 pm UTC
by Eebster the Great
On the bright side, it is a famous essay.

Use of mythological referents

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 1:00 am UTC
by Godhet
Have you heard this? Ive heard some people use "who" when referring to an inanimate object. It sounds odd to me. Im at a fast food place and say what Id like and they dont hear it and they respond "youd like a who?". This has happened to me at times at restaurants and it sounds odd to me.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 3:07 am UTC
by Eebster the Great
Godhet wrote:Have you heard this? Ive heard some people use "who" when referring to an inanimate object. It sounds odd to me. Im at a fast food place and say what Id like and they dont hear it and they respond "youd like a who?". This has happened to me at times at restaurants and it sounds odd to me.

This is a reasonable post for fleeting thoughts or as a new thread, but it doesn't belong in this one.

I've always understood the inanimate "who" as just being a regional/dialectical synonym for "what" but with fewer applications. I don't know all the rules behind it.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Jun 07, 2019 8:37 pm UTC
by Heimhenge
As OP, just wanted to jump back in to say I went with Sysyphean in the final draft and did NOT add a link. (Interesting spellcheck flagged Sysyphean.) None of the feedback I received said anything about "having to look up archaic mythological references". I suspect those who bothered to look it up were glad to have learned a new word. Wiki actually does a decent job defining the term in the lead section.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus

Thanks again to all who provided feedback on this thread.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Jun 07, 2019 10:41 pm UTC
by Eebster the Great
Heimhenge wrote:As OP, just wanted to jump back in to say I went with Sysyphean in the final draft and did NOT add a link. (Interesting spellcheck flagged Sysyphean.)

Cause that's not how you spell Sisyphean.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Jun 07, 2019 11:49 pm UTC
by Heimhenge
Duh. I thought that was strange since it wasn't flagged in my earlier posts. Careless typo.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Fri Jun 07, 2019 11:56 pm UTC
by Eebster the Great
The correct spelling is actually Sysyphyyn.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Sat Jun 08, 2019 5:47 pm UTC
by Heimhenge
I guess you could say spelling mythological names is a Herculean task.

But then, I'm not sure if Hercules could spell. I know he could count. At least up to 12.

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Sat Jun 08, 2019 8:02 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
Don't you mean "Heraclean?"

Re: Use of mythological referents

Posted: Mon Jun 10, 2019 4:02 pm UTC
by Quizatzhaderac
The brand of cleaning supplies endorse by Hera herself?