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the term "identifies"

From: Sandro Hawke <sandro@w3.org>
Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003 16:56:35 -0400
Message-Id: <200307212056.h6LKuZ1n005613@roke.hawke.org>
To: pat hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
cc: www-tag@w3.org

> Suggestion, though: don't 
> say 'denotes'. Instead say something like "indicates", 

How about "identifies"?  :-)

It seems to me like the word "identifies", as used in RFC 2396 and
WebArch often bothers you, and I don't quite understand why.

Trying to think as a native English speaker (instead of someone who
wastes his afternoons on www-tag), I'd say "X identifies Y" means that
X is a some property uniquely held by Y, or at least held only by Y
among some implied set of objects.  ("Her dark hair identifies my
youngest daughter.")  That's a very different sense from how
RFC2396/WebArch use the word, though.   Let's try a dictionary

    (transitive senses)
    1 a : to cause to be or become identical b : to conceive as united
    (as in spirit, outlook, or principle) <groups that are identified
    with conservation> 
                    [ No, that's not it. ]

    2 a : to establish the identity of b : to determine the taxonomic
    position of (a biological specimen) 
                    [ That's my sense, as in "dark hair" ]
    (intransitive senses)
    1 : to be or become the same
                    [ Nope ]

    2 : to practice psychological identification <identify with the
    hero of a novel>  
                    [ Nope ]

So my native-speaker-sense agrees with the dictionary.  

Putting my programmer/TAG-groupie hat back on.... hold on.  Ah, okay.
That makes sense: "identifies" as found in RFC2396/WebArch is probably
back-formed from "identifier" as the term is used by programmers.  In
programming language grammars, "identifier" is the superclass of
"variable", "constant", and maybe some other things.  That is, an
"identifier" is a string of characters which are associated (in some
scope) via the symbol table with some area of memory, a constant
value, a class definition, or something like that.  The string of
characters "identifies" the memory location, constant value, etc.

This is kind of sense 2a above: in the context of the particular
program, the string shows us (via the symbol table) a particular
(identified) program structure.

Anyway, this makes "identifies" pretty much synonymous with "is a name
for", or "denotes", right?

   -- sandro
Received on Monday, 21 July 2003 16:56:39 UTC

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