The Wikipedia article on psychology includes this:

In 2010, a group of researchers reported a systemic bias in psychology studies towards WEIRD (“western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic”) subjects. Although only 1/8 people worldwide fall into the WEIRD classification, the researchers claimed that 60–90% of psychology studies are performed on WEIRD subjects. The article gave examples of results that differ significantly between WEIRD subjects and tribal cultures, including the Müller-Lyer illusion.

Of course the acronym WEIRD plays off the normal English word weird, meaning ‘strange, unusual, odd.’ Most native English speakers don’t know that that wasn’t the original sense of the word, but the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth provide a clue to the earlier meaning. Those three characters were the Fates, women who could tell how the future would turn out. In fact the sense of weird turns on that notion of turning out, because the underlying Indo-European root *wer- meant ‘to turn.’

Another descendant of that Indo-European root was the Latin verb for ‘to turn,’ vertere, with past participle versus (which English uses unchanged as a preposition meaning ‘turned against’). It turns out that Spanish and English have acquired many words from that Latin verb, some examples being invertir/invert; revertir/revert; pervertir/pervert; convertir/convert; conversación/conversation, in which talk turns back and forth between two people; aniversario/anniversary, which we celebrate each year when the earth returns to the same place in its orbit; and versión/version, which is the way something has turned out after changes have been made to an earlier stage.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Jun 18, 2016 @ 22:23:58

    What tickles me is that, even with the technological changes surrounding them in 2010, the researchers didn’t choose WIRED rather than WEIRD to describe their study group. Surely they weren’t victims of their own unconscious biases?

    Version was the word that surprised me. Some, like revert and convert, were fairly obvious, but even conversation and anniversary were a bit of a surprise.

    Speaking of weird, I remembered your comment to Steve Gingold at the end of May about “one badass view” of his orchid when I came across this wonderful article. The opening line says, “Let’s face it, there is no depth to which linguists will not sink in their hunt for the oddities of language,” and I’d say the article proves it. it’s a great read.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 19, 2016 @ 07:05:29

      How clever of you to move the E in WEIRD two places to the right to turn the word into WIRED. I see now that the researchers could have mixed things up even more to urge psychologists to look to the WIDER world for their subjects.

      Of the words mentioned in this post, version strikes me, too, as the one that least obviously carries forward the ‘turning’ sense of the underlying root.

      Thanks for the introduction to JSTOR Daily.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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