That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sat November 30, 2013

Nowadays you can parse all kinds of things

Parsing used to be restricted to sentences, but now we can parse all kinds of things.

This week on That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan talk about the verbs to parse and to vet.

Parsing originally came from the Latin noun pars, meaning “parts”  as in “parts of speech.” When parse appeared in the English language in the 16th century, it referred to analyzing a sentence syntactically by breaking the phrase down to its parts of speech.

However, by the 18th century, parse came to mean “examining something closely by breaking it into component parts,” or even “to understand.” Now, parse has yet another definition to computer programmers, meaning “examining strings.”

 So what are people parsing today? Curzan looked in the Corpus of Contemporary American English and found that people are parsing critiques of Obama’s speech, parsing the first year of college, parsing numbers, and even parsing through suitors.

Parse seems to mean sorting or evaluating in order to make a decision,” Curzan explains.

Parse has become similar to vet, which has a surprising etymology.

To vet comes from the noun veterinarian, shortened to vet. It meant to take an animal in for examination,” Curzan says. “From there, it jokingly meant that when a person goes to a doctor they could be vetted for deficiencies.” By 1904, vet meant to look for deficiencies to see if someone is suitable for a job.

What do you parse or vet? Let us know in the comments section or on our Facebook page!

-Clare Toeniskoetter, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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