Post by firstname.lastname@example.org Post by email@example.com Post by Athel Cornish-Bowden
The "So" thread prompts me to ask whether "DNA" is as widely misused
elsewhere as it is on French television. It has become very common to
hear a politician say "Il est dans notre ADN" to mean that it is in
their party's DNA to leave the European Union, or to repeal the law on
single-sex marriage, or whatever.
Do you get this in English among politicians or journalists? Is it used bigly?
I am not sure at all, but I am under the impression that that metaphor came
into being in English before French. I think the first time I heard it, it
was in English.
It is a metaphor, alright, and should not be taken literally, but I, like
Athel, find it annoying. The reason is that one 'explanation' which SEEMS
valid is masquerading as another one. If I say my mind took a quantum leap
nobody would imagine that my mind changed its energy level.
The quantum leap metaphor doesn't look like an explanation.
On the other hand, there really
are things that are in one's DNA. When you use the DNA metaphor for something
that is not in the DNA, you might create confusion.
You might, but I'd be surprised to encounter that confusion.
Post by firstname.lastname@example.org
Doesn't that metaphor reinforce the 'genetic deterministic' viewpoint,
which can be very dangerous?
Probably, but only for those who don't understand that genes describe
possibilities, not absolutes, and that for many characteristics
a whole bucketload of genes, and that environmental factors
can turn genes on or off.
That may be true, but the general picture is that when humans reproduce
they produce offspring who are humans. Occasionally something goes wrong
and a person is born with deformities, even so they are still a human as
determined by their genes/DNA. It is the genes that "control" the
development of a single cell into a human or animal of the same type as
the parents. Human females don't give birth to non-human animals. That
is because it is the genetic material inherited from the parents is that
for "growing" a human.
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Of course, "but only for those" translates to "for the vast majority of people
with at least a vague awareness of genes or DNA".
The phrase "in one's DNA" is being used figuratively not scientifically.
Before "DNA" was used in that way, the phrase was "in one's genes".
As the OED says of "gene":
2. In fig. and extended use, esp. with reference to qualities
regarded as deeply ingrained or (often humorously) as inherited.
Often in pl.
1977 L. T. Milic in D. H. Bond & W. R. McLeod Newslett. to
Newspapers i. 44 The newspapers of the early Eighteenth Century
bore in their genes the flaws that Jefferson execrated a hundred
1988 J. Hersey Fling (1990) 129 Probity was in his genes; he
came from a line of citizens who had served..as preacher and
teacher,..sheep-mark recorder, trainband ensign.
1989 M. Piesman Unorthodox Practices ii. 19 She certainly showed
signs of inheriting the loudmouth gene.
1991 R. R. McCammon Boy's Life ii. vi. 162 My grandfather didn't
really start going crazy until after I was born, and I guess there
were sensible genes on my grandmother's side of the family.
2001 Chicago Tribune 2 Nov. iii. 4/6 If you talk to people in
their 40s it's like they have an investment gene and they still
see the down market as an opportunity.
2004 K. Long Bad Mother's Handbk. (2005) ii. 43 Maybe they
thought babies with northern genes needed weaning on cow heel and
Post by firstname.lastname@example.org Post by email@example.com
Then again, one might say that I am taking the whole thing too seriously...
The words we don't pay attention have a lot of influence,
so taking this seriously might be a good thing.
Peter Duncanson, UK