Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Background: A friend mentioned that he wanted to organise a board gaming tournament with 21 players. He opined that there ought to be a way to schedule seven 3-player games so that each player plays each of the seven games, and no player plays any opponent more than once. I replied that there is indeed such a way to schedule games:

ABC DEF GHI JKL MNO PQR STU
SQO ATR DBU GEC JHF MKI PNL
PKF SNI AQL DTO GBR JEU MHC
MER PHU SKC ANF DQI GTL JBO
JTI MBL PEO SHR AKU DNC GQF
GNU JQC MTF PBI SEL AHO DKR
DHL GKO JNR MQU PTC SBF AEI

My friend asked me to explain how I had come up with this scheme. I replied as follows:

"The players are arranged in three cohorts: ADGJMPS, BEHKNQT and CFILORU. The players in the first cohort appear first in each group, the players in the second cohort appear second in each group, and the players in the third cohort appear third. Each round, the players in the first cohort advance one group to the right; the players in the second cohort advance two groups to the right; and the players in the third cohort advance three groups to the right. The crucial reason why this approach works is that 7 is a prime number."


Question: The substance of my question is as follows. In my reply above, I used the words "cohort" and "group". These terms are synonymous, but I am using them to describe different things in an ad hoc fashion. I am using the term "group" to mean the sets of three letters (players) that are written with no spaces in between, representing players that are playing in the same game in that timetable slot. Meanwhile, I am using "cohort" to mean the three groups of seven players who never face one another because they move "in parallel" between the groups. Even though I am using two words that in principle mean the same thing, I am purposefully lending each of them a technical meaning and distinguishing between two concepts by choosing to describe each of them with one of those ostensibly synonymous words. Is there a term for this practice?

Another examples would be the terms "set" and "group" in pure mathematics (in general English usage these words mean the same thing, yet in mathematics a "group" is a special kind of "set").

share|improve this question
2  
Subject-specific language rarely means the use of words / strings unknown in other domains, but usually, rather, the use of stricter definitions (or even different definitions). Thus similar is used in geometry with a more precise meaning than in everyday English. The former process is known as semantic narrowing. ( grammar.about.com/od/rs/g/semnarrterm.htm ) Hyponymy-within-polysemy is often involved. Words with meanings that are nearly identical in everyday language can have more precise and now distinct meanings forced upon them. –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 26 '13 at 23:24
    
Oh, and by the way, a group in maths is not merely a special kind of set, but is defined:A group (G,·) is a nonempty set G together with a binary operation · on G (...) - ie it consists of a binary operation as well as a set (and further constraints). –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 26 '13 at 23:46
1  
You're being pedantic, Edwin. I know exactly what a group is. It is not unreasonable to say that a set paired with extra structure is "a special kind of set", especially in a setting that does not call for a detailed exploration of the manner in which it is "special". –  Hammerite Feb 27 '13 at 14:30
    
You might wish to make an answer suggesting "semantic narrowing". –  Hammerite Feb 27 '13 at 14:32
    
I'm not being pedantic; I'm being accurate. A set is defined as: 8 (Mathematics) A collection of distinct elements having specific common properties (AHDEL). Four distinct integers, say, have no properties one could sensibly say were 'common' with respect to the binary operation of addition, say. The set and the operation do not form a superset (though they may well comprise a group). Set and group (the maths usages) are 'classmates' (re Franklin) not synonyms. As for 'semantic narrowing', it's usually a process; 'defining terms' is used to specify a desired localised usage. –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '13 at 16:48
show 2 more comments

2 Answers 2

You ask, “Is there a term for this practice”, that is, for assigning or lending different technical meanings to nearly-synonymous words to distinguish among concepts. A general term that applies is designation, from several senses of the verb designate:
• “To mark out and make known; to point out; to name; to indicate; to show; to distinguish by marks or description; to specify...”
• “To call by a distinctive title; to name”
• “To indicate or set apart for a purpose or duty...”

I presume you seek a more-specific term, but for the nonce perhaps designation will serve.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Subject-specific language rarely means the use of words / strings unknown in other domains, but usually, rather, the use of stricter definitions (or even different definitions). Thus similar is used in geometry with a more precise meaning than in everyday English. The former process is known as semantic narrowing. Hyponymy-within-polysemy is often involved. Words with meanings that are nearly identical in everyday language can have more precise and now distinct meanings forced upon them.

share|improve this answer
    
Note, this is a community wiki answer, with part of it due to Edwin Ashworth. –  jwpat7 Feb 28 '13 at 18:55
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.