Can any technical term be used metaphorically? For instance, can I use the word assimilable which means capable of being absorbed and incorporated into body tissue (because it's broken down into a form that can be absorbed) in a sentence like "Calculus is not readily assimilable by students without appreciable Mathematics background"

I'm also wary because technical terms (assimilable belongs in Biology) are not always popular.

I know technical terms are already being used metaphorically. One may even use these words without realizing they've been adapted from a certain discipline for everyday use. Their derived meanings seem denotational because of its pervasive use. (I know I won't be forgiven for my lack of examples, they're not coming to mind atm. But I'm praying you get the picture.)

So my question is about the aptness of using these less common technical terms. I know I risk my audience not comprehending me when I use them, but surely there was a point in time where these very familiar (technical) expressions we use today weren't as commonplace as they are now. I hope someone understands me :-)

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    Assimilate can be used to describe the process of acquiring knowledge. Any reputable dictionary ought to tell you that. – Robusto Sep 14 '13 at 1:30
  • well, I'd counter your question with another: why do you feel the need to use a metaphor when a direct approach might be easier to understand ? Even if this is literature or fiction ... I'd rather read "Calculus is not easily understood without a good mathematics background" than your example sentence. Metaphors that also use jargon would most often be less clear than ordinary words. Just sayin' ... – Howard Pautz Sep 14 '13 at 1:36
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    Thanks. I guess constructing my sentences in a more asssimilable fashion is better. Hehe @HowardPautz. – Stephen Antwi Sep 14 '13 at 1:51
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    @StephenAntwi "Resistance is futile, your sentences will be assimilated!" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borg_(Star_Trek)#Assimilation (wow I actually managed to get a Star Trek quote in, do I get extra points ?) – Howard Pautz Sep 14 '13 at 1:55
  • Was seeking the best adjective form: assimilatable is uncommon, whereas assimilable is a biological term. But one can easily see the relation there, although it stuck out to me as if I were using it metaphorically because of my background, i think. @Robusto – Stephen Antwi Sep 14 '13 at 1:55

I'm a biologist myself but to me (and to this dictionary) the primary meaning of assimilate in English is exactly the one you are looking for:

  1. tr to learn (information, a procedure, etc) and understand it thoroughly

  2. tr to absorb (food) and incorporate it into the body tissues

Personally, I would rephrase your example to avoid the use of assimilable and use assimilated instead:

Calculus is not readily assimilated by students without appreciable mathematics background.

However, the basic rule is that if it is understood by your audience, then you can use it. For example, I would avoid using something like ubiquitylated to mean "marked for destruction" unless I were talking to another biologist, it depends on the specific term in question.

It also goes both ways, in biology the word splicing has developed a meaning that is the exact opposite of what the term means in normal English. The dictionary definition of splicing is to join together:

spliced, splic·ing, splic·es

  1. a. To join (two pieces of film, for example) at the ends. b. To join (ropes, for example) by interweaving strands.

  2. To join (pieces of wood) by overlapping and binding at the ends.

  3. To join together or insert (segments of DNA or RNA) so as to form new genetic combinations or alter a genetic structure.

  4. Slang To join in marriage: They went to Las Vegas to get spliced.

However, in biology we talk about introns being spliced out and have forgotten that the term originally referred to the joining of the exons rather than the removal of the introns.

  • True, it's perfectly okay to communicate with the initiated in these esoteric terms, and simpler constructions would be in order otherwise, for the sake of understanding. I could come to this conclusion myself. What I'm taking from here is that there is no hard-and-fast rule about the usage of less-common technical terms in everyday language. Thanks. – Stephen Antwi Sep 14 '13 at 3:46
  • @StephenAntwi the only rule I would follow is speak in a language that your audience can get, yeah. – terdon Sep 14 '13 at 3:48
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    Sounds to me like OP is trying to hijack assimilable and claim it for biology. Note the reverent capital b. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 14 '13 at 23:09

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