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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

professing and processing

it occurred to me the other day that the words “professor” and “processor” only differ by a single letter. hm…

taking a look at the etymology is even more interesting. professor is one who professes profess. profess is associated with the professing vows as to affirm one’s faith and allegiance before becoming a member of a religious order (Church of Reason, anyone?). the Latin roots (where my linguistic tendencies tell me to look) are fateri, to admit or confess, and pro-, before or forward. so, we get to put forth, or to acknowledge openly, as before others.

now look at the etymology of processor, a person or thing that processes (my emphasis). process (v) is following a routine, systematic procedure, often either as in manufacturing, to produce something, or so as to treat a series of items or individuals in a similar manner (i.e., the army recruiter processes applications/applicants). the Latin roots are cedere, to go, yield, or withdraw, and, again, pro-. so, we get going forward, the act of moving forward, with the connotation of doing so in a systematic way.

look at these two together. the initial reaction might be to consider the way that the professor is a processor of knowledge or information, exploring new conceptual areas via a systematic procedure, potentially even creating new knowledge or information (some notes from a talk about a year ago on the culture of information, and our concept of information as a substance – that feels very Lakoff and Johnson). alternatively, professors are processors of students, whom they treat in a systematic, routine way, moving forward through quarter after quarter, year after year of students.

this is not to say that the actual job of being a professor is (or is only) being a processor. the point is merely to point out some interesting conclusions that one might draw from the etymology. and to spark discussion…

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