While discussing the meaning of a word, in the definition of a proposed new Stack Exchange web site. I was told:

“The word property has its normal meaning, and refers to tangible objects: furniture, vehicles, hardware, tools, devices, implements, signage, pathways, and so on.” — https://area51.meta.stackexchange.com/a/27856/115681, this was while discussing the sentence “Proposed Q&A site for designers and users of property and technology for special needs.”

Is this a valid/correct meaning of property?

I have not heard it used this way. I have only see/heard it used as follows:

  • “a thing or things belonging to someone; possessions collectively.”
  • “an attribute, quality, or characteristic of something.”
  • “a building or area of land, or both together.”
  • “the legal right to own and use something.”
  • Where did you hear / read of this meaning? – JJJ Mar 15 '18 at 19:39
  • You should check online dictionaries first: google.it/… – user121863 Mar 15 '18 at 19:40
  • @user2922582 I did, but could not find similar definitions, so was wondering if any one here has seen this usage. – ctrl-alt-delor Mar 15 '18 at 19:44
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    @ctrl-alt-delor You need to cite where you found the quoted definition. – Laurel Mar 15 '18 at 19:51
  • What do you think the "normal meaning" means in the above sentence? – Xanne Mar 15 '18 at 19:56

The Problem

You are in disagreement with Area 51-meta user Nij about the use of property in a proposed title for a

Q&A site for designers and users of property and technology for special needs.

Nij defends this usage with a personally formulated definition:

The word property has its normal meaning, and refers to tangible objects: furniture, vehicles, hardware, tools, devices, implements, signage, pathways, and so on.

Nij is arguing that property denotes a class whose common characteristic is tangibility and lists eight examples to convince you.

Of hypernyms and hyponyms

In essence, the argument is that property is a hypernym, or superordinate, of all the listed examples, which in turn are hyponyms of property. A hypernym is a word denoting a generic semantic field containing any number of hyponyms, specific examples of the hypernym:

x is a kind/type of y.
A finch, robin, sparrow, or vulture is a kind of bird.

As denoting kinds of birds, finch, robin, sparrow, vulture are hyponyms of the hypernym bird. Since there are also different kinds of vultures and finches, vulture and finch can be hypernyms for the names of individual species. Goldfinch and turkey vulture, however, still remain hyponyms of bird.

The essential property of property

For property to function as a hypernym as Nij maintains, all instances of property must be tangible. This, however, is not the case. Intellectual property is primarily intangible, and while it does not share certain characteristics with other kinds of property — it is indivisible, infinitely reproducible, inexhaustible, and difficult to protect — it does share the chief characteristic of property: it can be owned. Software, novel, film script, house, ranch, estate, sports car could thus be acceptable hyponyms of property, but could not be readily subsumed by Nij's “and so on.”

The website WordNet is an online dictionary organized on the basis of hypernyms and hyponyms. For property, there is an extensive list of hyponyms:

intellectual, community, personal, public, private, real (as in real estate) property; landholding, wealth, stockholding, belongings, things (as in "pack my things").

Whether it's all the things you're trying to stuff in a suitcase, a proprietary phone app, or a giant shopping mall, what connects them is they can be owned.

The Solution

It's highly unlikely that there is an acceptable hypernym for “things that can be improved for the use of those with special needs,” so unless one wants to chuck the whole title in favor of accessibility, then a short but comprehensive list of theoretical hyponyms, which in turn also serve as hypernyms, would have to suffice. A few choices come to mind:

services, products, private and public spaces

Then comes the fun part. Is transportation a hyponym of service? Is Nij's original technology also a product? You see, we play the hyper- hyponym game with language all the time, even if we don't use the vocabulary when we do.

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  • A side note: Is intellectual property hard to protect? If you take a copy of my intellect, I will still have it. If you kill me before a copy is made then it is gone. Therefore to protect it, make many copies. – ctrl-alt-delor May 14 '18 at 10:54

Is it a valid usage? - Yes. I can use my own property (my bike) to travel to work, or I can use your property (a scooter) provided you let me, or my employer's property (a company car). So, technically, "I can use property to get to work" is "valid".

Is it idiomatic? - Hell no. My longer explanation used possessive nouns (my, your, employer's) before property; this is far more idiomatic. In British English about the only use of property (in its physical sense) without a possessive noun is in describing land and buildings. As in "My landlord owns lots of property". In American English I believe "real estate" would be used instead.

What would be more idiomatic? - Products.

“Proposed Q&A site for designers and users of products and technology for special needs.”

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    Have you looked at the OP's SE 51 proposal? and at the comments under Nij's answer? I'm not so sure the OP is talking about products per se, but rather how they are classified. Is "property" the opposite of "free"? If I own something, it belongs to me, regardless if that product was free or paid for. I dunno, am I wrong? – Mari-Lou A Mar 21 '18 at 11:30
  • @Mari-LouA - My understanding is 1. BanzaiTokyo created the proposal for Accessibility with the "property and technology" wording. 2. ctrl+alt+delor interpreted the use of "property" as meaning "something proprietary" and raised on objection. 3. Nij responded that "property means things like furniture and vehicles". I am convinced that BanzaiTokyo used a non-idiomatic word, and it understandably confused the hell out of ctrl+alt+delor. – AndyT Mar 21 '18 at 11:53
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    @Mari-LouA - Perhaps I should add "users of property" makes some logical sense, but "designers of property" makes no sense to me. "users of products" and "designers of products" both make complete sense. – AndyT Mar 21 '18 at 11:55
  • @Mari-LouA note: though I have pointed out that it is not very relevant to this discussion, the Free I am discussing is not about price, it is about freedom. – ctrl-alt-delor Mar 21 '18 at 23:57

KarlG's answer outlines the background behind this question and also notes that property doesn't need to be tangible. My answer deals with just one aspect: that property relates more to possession or ownership than to tangibility.

property noun 1 mass noun A thing or things belonging to someone; possessions collectively. ‘she wanted Oliver and his property out of her flat’ ‘the stolen property was not recovered’ - ODO

Note that the definition qualifies "thing or things" with the phrase "belonging to someone", and lists the secondary sense using the term "possessions". Property isn't simply stuff - it's stuff that is owned.

Consider the term "public property", which might be considered to carry a sense of 'not owned by anyone':

Public property is property that is dedicated to public use and is a subset of state property. - Wikipedia

Even here, the notion of ownership is prominent: public property is owned by the state. Consider, for example, playground equipment such as swings, slides and roundabouts that a local council makes available to the public. Even if the public is allowed to play on it, and even if they may do so without payment, the equipment still belongs to the state. This is clearly the case because no one is allowed to take pieces of the equipment away with them: the public may use it, but they may not assert individual ownership over it.

You ask:

Is this [property = tangible objects] a valid/correct meaning of property?

No, that's a deficient understanding of the term. Although it's true that tangible objects can sometimes be 'property', calling something property isn't an assertion that it is a "tangible object". It is instead an assertion that the thing belongs to someone.

The unasked question is a request for a term to replace property in the site definition:

Accessibility: Proposed Q&A site for designers and users of property and technology for special needs

I'd suggest the term equipment:

equipment noun 1 The necessary items for a particular purpose. ‘suppliers of office equipment’ - ODO

This carries the notion of 'things' without bringing ownership into the discussion. It also balances the other term technology, either to include both non-technical and technical 'things' used for special needs, or alternatively to include both 'things' and 'ways to use them' for special needs.

The site definition would then look like this:

  • Accessibility: Proposed Q&A site for designers and users of equipment and technology for special needs
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The first point in the list of meanings 'heard' by you in support of 'property' (i.e. a thing or things belonging to someone; possessions collectively) is closer to the meaning explained by

"tangible objects: furniture, vehicles, hardware, tools, devices, implements, signage, pathways, and so on".

But that CERTAINLY does not convey a comprehensive meaning of the word 'property' per se. Property can very well be intangible, as in this case:

'Cohesion is one of the major properties of water.'

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The area 51 topic is just off base. It says: The opposite of Free is proprietary, thus the word property could lead to a problem. This is wrong.

For his definition of free, he references https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.en.html. This site defines “Free software” to mean "software that respects users' freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price."

Thus, free is used here to mean "use", in a very broad sense. Use is a part of ownership, but the owner can give the right to use to another, or all others. You can have the right of use without ownership.

Proprietary is related to ownership. Consequently, this use of free is not opposite of proprietary. Further, because the right to use property can be obtained without ownership, the use of the word property does not cause a problem.

Previous post and correctly identified the various meanings of property (including characteristic, ownership rights, etc.) that that it is not limited to tangible items.

In addition, his concern with accessibility and use of the term "special needs" and the other phrasing makes this river of ambiguity runs over the falls into the lake of vagueness in the land of incomprehensibility.

Can't you ask a simple question?

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  • Voted down, as is not answering the question on the meaning of properly. In stead is distracted with the meaning of Free Software (as mentioned in the linked question). [And the states that Free Software is not opposite to proprietary, this is the opposite opinion of the Free Software Foundation (the creators of the Free Software definition)]. I have edited the linked question, to remove the mention of Free Software, as this is distracting some people. – ctrl-alt-delor Mar 23 '18 at 15:06

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