granularity
Posted: 29 April 2007 08:17 PM   [ Ignore ]
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This word, unknown to me, just came up in former CIA director, George Tenet’s interview on a US Sunday evening newsmag (60 Minutes).  I didn’t get it very well as it passed by, but I thought he was saying something like, “Our agents understood it with great granularity.” I think the “it” had something to do with the details surrounding the data leading up to our entrance into the Iraq War.

Anyway… Any hints as to the meaning of this?  My wife thinks “details.”

On googling, it may have come out of the IT world:

This term is used in astronomy, photography, physics, linguistics, and fairly often in information technology. It can refer to the level of a hierarchy of objects or actions, to the fineness of detail in a photograph, or to the amount of information that is supplied in describing a person’s age. Its meaning is not always immediately clear to those unfamiliar with the context in which it’s being used.

edit: found the text of tonight’s interview: It seems to be about the two 9-11 hijackers who were on the CIA terrorist “watch list” that never made it out of Langley to the FBI or other agencies’ databases

“Scott, they don’t. And honest people doing honest work, for whatever you know, all of these people who are doing the best that they can, and understand this in great granularity, understand all of this and feel this pain, we all know this. I can’t dress this up for you,” Tenet replies.

edit: plural possessive on “agencies’”

[ Edited: 29 April 2007 08:49 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 29 April 2007 08:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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OED has yet to catch up with this usage. (I think your wife is right, it’s with reference to the fine detail revealed when one looks at something closely). Here are the only two cites in OED, in which it’s solely defined as “granular condition or quality”.

1882 VINES Sachs’ Bot. 520 The apical cells of these internal rows are distinguished by their size and by the granularity of their protoplasm. 1894 Brit. Jrnl. Photogr. XLI. 24 Its surface being free from granularity or roughness.

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Posted: 29 April 2007 08:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think you’re right, aldi.  I have to say that I like this neologism very much and can’t wait to use it creatively.  I’m not sure that George Tenet did, but ...

Another one of these of recent vintage is “close reading.”

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Posted: 29 April 2007 09:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’d have been stumped also, and I also like it, but it is pretty much a parallel to “particularity”.

The particulate matter in a concrete mix is partially made up of grains of sand. But the photography ‘image’ seems like the basis for it.

[ Edited: 29 April 2007 09:31 PM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 30 April 2007 04:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I’m quite familiar with this term, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve worked in IT for so many years or because I’ve come across it in my word-hunting. In any case, some online specialty dictionaries have definitions (all found via OneLook, by the way) that concur with the way I know and use the term.

Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science: The level of descriptive detail in a record created to represent a document or information resource for the purpose of retrieval, for example, whether the record structure in a bibliographic database allows the author’s name to be parsed into given name and surname.

Free Online Dictionary Of Computing: The size of the units of code under consideration in some context. The term generally refers to the level of detail at which code is considered, e.g. “You can specify the granularity for this profiling tool”.

[Oops: took out def already in first post.]

[ Edited: 30 April 2007 04:52 AM by Grant Barrett ]
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Posted: 30 April 2007 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’d have guessed that it’s more closely related to the photography sense.  Film granularity has to do with the distribution of the silver nitrate (or whatever light reactive chemical) “grains”.  Fine grained film captures more details, large grained film gives you a fuzzier picture.

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Posted: 30 April 2007 12:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Like Grant, I’m a bit confused about where the term comes from. I can’t recall clearly if my familiarity with the term comes from my current work in the IT world or from my past life in military/intelligence work.

I suspect that Tenet’s usage comes from overhead imagery (from satellites & reconnaissance aircraft). The greater the granularity of the image, the finer the detail that can be discerned.

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