Overlapping Circles
Posted: 06 November 2007 10:49 PM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  392
Joined  2007-10-20

Is there a term for those overlapping circles used to explain concepts that are partially connected? There’s a mathematical side to it, I’m just addressing those things on the same level as a pie chart.

Why it’s important to me is that I use it to explain the phenomenon of word definitions, explain it to myself anyway. In other words, a single word has a range of definition that can be conceptualized as a circle. Another word can be related conceptually but not identical in meaning. I would suggest that virtually no two words in the English language have identical and completely overlapping circles. This is, quite frankly, a phenomenon evident in bad translations, or worse, a phenomenon of inexperienced people with ready access to a thesaurus.

You can imagine a concatenation of words leading to absurd results. For example, “nation” and “country” are pretty close, and so is “land.” This might yield:


In this fashion a computer might give “land,” “soil,” or “crap” as a translation for “nation,” which has some humorous appeal, especially in the wee hours of the morning.

Anyway, it would be great if somebody had put a name to this. Maybe it’s been described already.

Posted: 06 November 2007 11:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  66
Joined  2007-03-04

Maybe Venn diagrams would suit.

I too use overlapping circles to explain overlaps in semantic range, but I’ve never really felt the need to name the circles themselves.

EDIT: Here’s another wikipedia article you may find interesting: Semantic network

[ Edited: 06 November 2007 11:22 PM by nomis ]
Posted: 07 November 2007 08:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Total Posts:  392
Joined  2007-10-20

Thanks, for both links. I agree, the name isn’t very important, but it helps if you’re trying to explain it to someone, or for mentally filing it away. And I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who visualizes semantic range (another good phrase) that way.

[ Edited: 07 November 2007 08:48 AM by Iron Pyrite ]
Posted: 07 November 2007 12:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Total Posts:  429
Joined  2007-02-14

Strange (but maybe not), I too use that image to explain how words may or may not “coincide”. E.g. the translations that I work with on a daily basis. I often find that a word in one language doesn’t entirely “overlap” with its counterpart in another.
Same thing with synonyms (in any language). The fact that you can often find a particular use for one word where its synonym wouldn’t fit very well, means to me their “boundries” don’t have the exact same shape.

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