Words matter: Is it an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or a Drone?

Words are powerful. They’re also ever-evolving, continually adapting to changing forces in our world such as emerging technology.

For instance, if you’re reading this, then you’ve entered the “blogosphere.” Now I’m sure that most of you, when you got out of bed this morning, never had the first thought of entering the blogosphere, but here you are, with or without intention.

The word “blogosphere” – reportedly coined in 2002 – is defined as all of the blogs on the Internet and their interconnections. The blogosphere is a collection of connected communities in which authors – both trained and untrained – publish their opinions, or so I’m told by Wikipedia.

The blogosphere is even used by some media outlets as a gauge of public opinion and is cited by some polls as evidence that an issue is either being accepted or rejected by most folks.

I really got to thinking about the power of words at the recent Georgia Peanut Farm Show in Tifton.  University of Georgia Extension agronomist Glen Harris gave an interesting presentation entitled “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for Detection of Field Problems.” Of course, he was talking about taking crop images with UAVs, or, what are commonly known to most of the general public as “drones.”

But Harris pointed out that he and his fellow UGA researchers would prefer that their particular type of UAVs not be called drones. “Drones have come to imply covert or military action – I tell people that we’re shooting pictures not bullets,” he said.

Some may accuse Harris of splitting hairs over a simple word, but he’s exactly right. Words can have a definite meaning – such as what you’ll find in a dictionary – and they can have an implied meaning – something that accrues over time as the result of the most popular use or misuse of a word.

If you mention the word “drone” to most people, it conjures sinister images of unmanned aircraft killing terrorists and other, sometimes unintentional, targets. It also evokes the fear of losing one’s privacy, so it’s an important distinction that Harris makes.

It brings to mind how the word “compromise” has evolved in recent years, from a positive definition of working together to find mutually acceptable solutions to the negative connation used today by the fringe factions of some political parties.

Words are powerful, so take special care in how you use them.

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