Re: What Matriarchy?
Sun, 21 Jul 1996 18:51:05 -0700

Daniel Maltz wrote:
> wrote:
> : >I am not an anthropologist, but I am a Jew and therefore know that this is not correct.
> : My arguments were (1) that both definitions are in common use, so
> : arguing the validity of any one over the other seems pointless, (2) that
> . . .
> : The American Heritage Dictionary
> : Matriarchy - (1) a social system in which decent is traced through the
> : mother€s side of the family; (2) a matriarchate.
> This kind of argument is more than a little silly. If you look up the
> word "atom" in Webster's Unabridged, the first definition is "a tiny
> particle; an extremely small bit of anything; a jot". The second
> definition is the technical definition from physics and chemistry.
> Anyone using the non-technical definition in a scientific context would
> be laughed at. There is just as little justification for using a popular
> loose definition of matriarchy in an even marginally scholarly context.

First, the current definitions of atom within the fields of physics and
chemistry are well established. Matriarchy, as far as I can tell, has
not been clearly defined in an anthropological sense. In fact, 19th
century works utilize both definitions.

Second, the first definition of atom is closer to the meaning of atom
when discussing early atomism. If someone were to enter a physics
conversation and make a comment that the book they were reading defines
an atom as 'a tiny particle', a physicist would recognize that the
person is probably reading an older philosophical work or a childs book.
Actually, response would probably vary depending on the context in which
the word is used. It would not be useful to provide a full quantum or
string definition of an atom if the conversation is dealing with an
issue where the simpler definition works. Regardless, it seems unlikely
that the physicist would waste time with an argument that 'a tiny
particle' is not the definition of an atom.

In the same way, it seems pointless to respond to someone, who states
that some book defines matriarchy as matrilineal, with a statement that
this is not the definition of matriarchy. Instead it should be
recognized as a valid usage (proper or not) and some effort should be
made to establish the distinction between the two definitions and to
explain why one definition would be more appropriate to the conversation
than the other. This was what I was trying to do.

As for usage of words in a scholarly context, most scholarly works I've
read include the authors definitions of key terms. The purpose of
definitions is to clarify meaning, not to bind conversation. If meanings
were limited to established definitions, the English language would not
be vary adaptable. These continual efforts to bind a term to a single
definition is hardly conducive to scholarly inquiry.

However, if you find it more productive to argue that matriarchy cannot
be defined as matrilineal, then go for it. It just seemed that this sort
of argument was preventing the thread from moving forward. The fact
remains that matriarchy has been defined as both matrilineal and
matriarchate. I'm only suggesting that we clarify whether the definition
in an argument is one or the other and move on.