Saturday, March 22, 2008

Parsing it out...

We can blame the geeks for this one. The word parse is making a comeback. According to my Franklin Spelling Ace, (yes, I have a problem with spelling and the Ace really helps me out when I am not on the computer) parse is a verb that means to tease out the meaning of something. Once only a linguistic and an English teacher’s domain (parse- explication, or explanation of grammatical structure- i.e. diagramming), computer programmers took the word on to explain how they decode, analyze, and separate data and other input into components that are more easily processed. Programmers write routines (parsers) within a computer program to separate out strings of data into its known fields. This makes sense since another definition of parse is to read between the lines, and programmers read between the field separators to extract data.

But now the word parse is showing up all over the place. I read it 6 or 7 times today alone and a few days ago it cropped up in a youtube video. I was starting to think that people didn’t know what they were talking about because from a librarian’s point of view parsing is what a good dictionary does when it breaks down a word, gives its pronunciation, word origin, tense, etc. etc.. A dictionary does it for me; I don’t have to parse anything or at least I have never used the word parse in regard to anything I do. It seems like a funny sort of word to me.

But, an definition changed my mind because now the word is being used in the CSI sense. It means to examine closely or to be subject to a detailed analysis, and that’s what CSI does! But, now people are starting to use it to mean simply understand, or comprehend. I can see this if they mean breaking something down so that it can be understood or comprehended better. But, to mean simply understand or comprehend is a stretch. Think about it, it just does not make sense for teachers to start calling comprehension tests, parsel tests? It sounds like a test that Harry Potter would have to take at Hogwarts. I still think using the word parse seems a little funny but maybe I will use it the next time I am breaking down technology step-by-step for the teachers in my building. ☺

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