Invention by Naming

Not all rain has a name.

Language has power not just to describe our experience,
but to create our experience.

Therefore, most rains are forgotten.

Tourists returning home from Ireland
tell us they saw more greens than they ever thought existed.

Except for downpours and drizzles, the rest blend together
like a summer of sunny weather, generic as daylight.

But all they can tell us is that there were many,
unless they named one toasted salamander, or mint popsicle.

Yesterday the rain fell at intervals all day long. Walking along the bank of the pond, the dogs and I found ourselves in a quiet shower of big drops widely spaced, the type we have all been in countless times without noticing.


But most of the pond was still. There was no rain by the bridge. The center of the pond was flat as glass. Only on the far bank, and where I stood getting rained on, were the fat drops falling.



The situation was the same across the pond. Along the other bank, the same rain fell like handfuls of pebbles making ripples that widened and crossed one another.

I had come to the pond during a dry interval after a day of rain. Water that had fallen on the trees by the banks was draining down the branches until fat drops gathered and fell, some onto me, some into the pond. The opposite of what happens early in a rain when we can shelter beneath the boughs was happening now. The tree was raining.



Since I was first to notice this form of secondary rain, I get to name it. The phenomenon is Leaf Drip, and I call it my invention because it didn’t exist until I took enough notice of it to call it to your attention.

Now that it has a name, Leaf Drip is more likely to be recognized and remembered. You may not think of it again until you’re standing in a leaf-drip rain, but when it happens, you’ll recognize it and know what it’s called.

Invention by Perspective

Blue Marble

This famous “Blue Marble” shot represents the first photograph in which Earth is in full view. The picture was taken on December 7, 1972, as the Apollo 17 crew left Earth’s orbit for the moon. With the sun at their backs, the crew had a perfectly lit view of the blue planet. It’s so common now that students born in the 21st Century have to trust me when I say that in 1972 it changed how we thought about earth.

Where we stand changes our perspective about everything.

Orion Perspective


All Text is Argument

That bridge on the pond is narrow, just wide enough for two to pass, certainly too narrow for people to cross with their dogs on leashes if others are using the bridge to fish with their tackle boxes open on the deck and their bicycles leaning against the rails.

But that didn’t stop kids from fishing from the bridge before the signs went up. Dogs on leashes more than once got their noses into the tackle boxes and came up with hooks baited with hot dog pieces. Dogs don’t lie still for hook removal, but owners have no choice. They have to get them out of their dog’s lip before they get swallowed.

Now that the signs are up, dog walkers can demand the right of way, and the kids with their tackle might grumble, but they leave when they’re told to leave.

The signs are a Proposal Argument that persuades its readers on the basis of some authority of law. The question is, did the author of the signs have the authority his argument presumes, or is his argument rhetorical, a construct of language and presentation that only pretends to legitimacy?

Did he attach a label to something that was already universally recognized, or did he create a new thing by naming it? Arguments change the world.

Another Lame Story

Recently a student commented in my Instructor Evaluation that “homey likes to talk A LOT, and most of his stories are lame.”  I suspect he was talking about this one, but there are plenty of others he might have meant. Leave me a Reply, please, if you agree with my favorite student’s assessment, or if you think it might help you remember something important. Or both.

13 Responses to Invention by Naming

  1. j6128 says:

    I thought it was valuable to know that somethings don’t exist until we name them and that it is important to name our opponents for rebuttal argument. As well as the fact that all text is an argument

    • davidbdale says:

      That’s a good lesson, I think. The value of naming your argument is indisputable.

      When fiscal conservatives in the US Congress wanted to repeal estate taxes, they started calling them “Death Taxes.” NOBODY wants to be in favor of Death Taxes, but since they’re paid by only the very wealthy, most people ended up unwittingly supporting a tax break that would never benefit them. I’ve always admired that bit of rhetoric (evil though it is). I found this at Investopedia.

      Death Taxes Explained
      The death tax can be any tax that is imposed on the transfer of property after someone’s death. The term “death tax” gained popularity in 1990s and was used to describe estate and inheritance taxes by those who want the taxes repealed.

  2. gossipgirl3801 says:

    The Orion example helped me the most.

  3. alyse816 says:

    Yes, I have never thought about it before but your certainly right. If we didn’t name anything then there would be nothing to talk about.

    • davidbdale says:

      Somebody came up with the name “social distancing” to remind us to stay 6 feet apart when we’re in a public place. That was NEVER a term until this month. Now that we’ve lived with it for a month, and everybody knows what it means, critics will start to complain that it signals the OPPOSITE of what we need right now. Stuck in our homes, we feel an overwhelming need for “social closeness.” Hence, all the Zooming.

      I predict by tomorrow, we’ll be calling it “physical distancing,” or something to remind us to keep our bodies distant but remain close to our communities. So in 4 words, we make two very different rhetorical arguments both designed to describe the same social phenomenon.

      See? Names are crucial.

  4. sixers103 says:

    In my opinion it would help me remember something important

  5. rose1029 says:

    I enjoy stories, I think all stories have lessons or messages, so I learn from the stories you tell in class and it gives me details and background rather than telling me the straight facts.

  6. harp03 says:

    In my opinion, the concept of naming Orion vs any other group of stars was the most helpful example/explanation.

    • davidbdale says:

      I’ve been flabbergasted by that notion ever since it first occurred to me, Harp. Whenever I witness people drawing false conclusions by clustering unrelated facts, I think: That’s only Orion because of where you stand.

      Come over here and look at the same sky. Where’s your argument now?

  7. samtheman1448 says:

    The Orion example was definitely the most helpful for me.

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