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Words Considered: “Invent” or “Discover?”

Contact Info: Dan Mitchell

Office: A15
Email: mitchelldan@deanza.edu
Phone: 408.864.8511

Office Hours

Monday & Wednesday
Room A11:
15 minutes before 9:30 Music 1A
10 minutes after 9:30 Music 1A
Room A91:
15 minutes before 12:30 Music 51
10 minutes after 12:30 Music 51.

From time to time I notice certain kinds of writing errors that crop up with increasing frequency. Recently I have noticed more frequent misuse of the term “discover.” Here are two examples, paraphrased from student writing.

  1. “High quality magnetic audio tape recording was discovered in the middle of the Twentieth Century.”
  2. “Haydn discovered the string quartet.”

Both sentences misuse the term “discovered.” A thing that is “discovered” was already there but people were unaware of its existence. When they become aware of the preexisting thing, they are said to have “discovered” it.

In both of these cases the thing was invented, not discovered.*

* We could get into the question of whether or not the party credited with the invention of the thing should get full credit for it, or if some earlier party or parties played some role in its invention. We could ask a similar question about discovery as well — for example, think of the old statement, “Columbus discovered America.” I would bet that the people who were already there would disagree…

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Contact Info: Dan Mitchell

Office: A15
Email: mitchelldan@deanza.edu
Phone: 408.864.8511

Office Hours

Monday & Wednesday
Room A11:
15 minutes before 9:30 Music 1A
10 minutes after 9:30 Music 1A
Room A91:
15 minutes before 12:30 Music 51
10 minutes after 12:30 Music 51.
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