penetrate
Posted: 26 January 2015 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I recently encountered the phrase “penetrate the crust” in the context of a Russian drilling program. In the context it was clear that what was meant was “pass completely through the crust into the mantle”. (The earth’s crust is the rocky outermost layer of the planet, whose thickness varies between 5 and 50 kilometres. It overlies the softer mantle, a layer that is about 3000 km thick.)

A bit of google tells me that this use of penetrate to mean pass completely through is not terribly rare.

Normally, I would use the word penetrate to indicate that the thing penetrated had been breached even slightly. So, in the drilling case, if you’ve passed all the way through the crust and into the mantle, what you’ve done is penetrate the mantle. Or I might say that you’ve penetrated the Crust-Mantle boundary.

What say you?

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Posted: 26 January 2015 09:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Although it is somewhat ambiguous, the sense of going fully through something seems to me to be the default, so the usage you question seems quite normal to me.

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Posted: 26 January 2015 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The dictionaries would disagree. Neither the OED and M-W distinguish between “pass into” and “pass through.” AHD doesn’t acknowledge the “pass through” sense at all.

The OED (Sep 2005) gives the literal definition as “To get into or through, gain entrance or access to, esp. with force, effort, or difficulty; to pierce.”

Merriam-Webster’s 11th says, “a :  to pass into or through b :  to enter by overcoming resistance :  pierce c :  to gain entrance to”

American Heritage says, “to enter, pass into, or force a way into.”

A quick Googling shows that both senses, the “pass into” and “pass through,” are common, though. I’m not sure what the logic is in these dictionary definitions. I would think the “pass into” and “pass through” deserve separate definitions.

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