[LEAPSECS] Meeting with Wayne Whyte

Steve Allen sla at ucolick.org
Tue Feb 1 16:23:52 EST 2011

On Tue 2011-02-01T20:46:49 +0000, Poul-Henning Kamp hath writ:

> Words have only the meanings we give them Rob, and only as far

> as we give them that meaning.


> My grandmothers brother was decribed as a "A Very Gay Character"

> when he arrived in New Orleans many years ago. Today he wouldn't be,

> because we give a new meaning to that word.


> "Universal" had one meaning in the late 18-hundreds, but today

> our universe is a lot bigger, what with space probes leaving

> the solar system and all, so maybe it is time to make our

> timescale "universal" rather than "universe as seen from this

> planet".

This is the problem which corporations solve by trademarks which allow
them ownership of words and ability to protect and change their
meaning. That sword cuts both ways. For example, the accounting firm
Andersen Consulting got tangled up with Enron and decided it was
better to be known as Accenture.

Even in the presence of a trademark it is not possible to assert
complete control over the common usage of a name. This is what
happened to GMT in 1925 when the Admiralty decided to change the
tabulations in the Nautical Almanac so that the GMT day started at
Midnight instead of Noon, the way it had been for well over a century.

The IAU had requested that the Admiralty not do this. After they did
no power could guarantee that people would know about the change, and
no power could guarantee that those who knew would use it
consistently, and no power could guarantee correct interpretation of
the meaning of a precision timestamp expressed as GMT after that
change. Therefore the IAU abandoned the term GMT and named UT as the
unambiguous way to assert a precision time stamp.

If the characteristics of the broadcast time scale change but the name
stays UTC then any existing document which specifies UTC will become
ambiguous, requiring judgement by somebody, or even a court of law, to
interpret the original intent of the document.

So if the meaning of a word changes, it's best simply not to depend on
it. Today anyone who goes around calling people "gay" is going to be
regarded as ignorant or offensive.

Is this the sort of result that the ITU-R wants?

Steve Allen <sla at ucolick.org> WGS-84 (GPS)
UCO/Lick Observatory Natural Sciences II, Room 165 Lat +36.99855
University of California Voice: +1 831 459 3046 Lng -122.06015
Santa Cruz, CA 95064 http://www.ucolick.org/~sla/ Hgt +250 m

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