Feed your miNd

My job is a constant education… two new N-words from the same journal (Booklist 11/1/06, if you’re rabidly curious) that turned out the be vaguely related!
I suspect the first word was not used correctly, or else I’m missing something profound in the definition. Here’s the context, from the review of Jean-Noel Jeanneney’s Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: “Jeanneney believes that Google’s retrievals as presently constituted pass to the reader the merely noetic, not truly the intelligent, insightful, thoughtful, and genuinely helpful information implied by the notion of universal knowledge.” Even if we delve into the philosophical definition, we’re still talking about a word that essentially deals with the intellect and reason. So how is that meant to contrast with “intelligent, insightful, thoughtful, and genuinely helpful”? (For that matter, how is it that having all the world’s knowledge at your fingertips automatically implies possession of the wisdom to select the most helpful bits insightfully and thoughtfully? Were that true, librarians would have been out of a job the day the World Wide Web came into being.) I suspect the reviewer was looking for a word more like facile or perhaps (to be fair) ratiocinative, to contrast between a computer’s strict trains of logic and proficiency of language, and a human’s intuition and fluency of language. (See? I have big words, too!) At any rate, even if the reviewer didn’t use it correctly, I got a new word out of the bargain. ^_^
The second word I thought I’d encountered before, but it turns out I’d confused it with something similar but unrelated. From the review of Jay Lake’s Trial of Flowers: “When the city’s de facto and largely unknown leader vanishes from a locked room, his apprentice, Jason the Factor, struggles to maintain civilian order in the face of terrifying hauntings from the noumenal world and the threat of advancing enemy soldiers beyond the city’s walls.” The word I knew was numen— a Roman spirit-of-place, from Latin nÅ«men, “a nod, command; divine will or power, divinity.” Noumenal comes from noumena (singular noumenon), a word coined by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant from a Greek participle of noein, “to perceive by thought,”– and lo, we’re right back to noetic.

This entry was posted in Two New Things a Day. Bookmark the permalink.