The Importance of Disambiguation

Okay, I am going to pick on Hostess Chocolate Pudding Pies for a moment, and I want to make something very clear: I love me a good Hostess Chocolate Pudding Pie. I used to use my allowance to buy myself one from the school cafeteria with my lunches (back in the day before fast food companies moved into the schools -Don’t get me started.)

But when someone comes up with a problem of disambiguation (confusion caused by multiple things with the same name) I always think of Hostess Chocolate Pudding Pies.

Why? I spent many a lunch reading the ingredients of my Hostess Chocolate Pudding Pies, and long enough puzzling over one in particular that I finally looked it up in a dictionary. The word I looked up was agar.

Now, to be fair, I am sure the dictionary I used was the same crappy one from the 1930’s that all the kids used and laughed at because it defined a fart as a small explosion between the legs. We all recognized and made fun of the ambiguousness of that definition.

The definition the dictionary gave me for agar was: sheep’s blood. Now I wish I could find the dictionary and show it to you or link to it, but I can’t, so please trust me that this (or something very similar) is what it said. Specifically I think it said something about sacrificial sheep’s blood in used in pagan rituals, but that was many years ago and my memory is not so hot, even when it comes to something that shocks me so much I had to hesitate before I took another bite of my Hostess Chocolate Pudding Pie.

It did not deter me from my Hostess Chocolate Pudding Pies. It did make me wonder though…

So now. What is it really? Agar is a gelatin-like substance made from a red algae. It is used in food as a thickening agent. Whew! The dictionary got it wrong! I haven’t been eating goat’s blood all these years!

Or have I?

It is also used as a culture medium in petri dishes, to grow bacteria and fungi.

Bood agar has animal blood cells in it to be used as nutrients to grew the  bacteria and fungi. Usually sheep’s blood.

Chocolate agar is similar but made a special way with slow heating that turns the agar a ‘chocolate’ color. (No actual chocolate involved.)

There is a great page on agar at sciencebuddies.org.

So, my point on disambiguation: Hostess, I love you, I don’t know that it is really your fault that agar is used in those other ways, and I don’t think you should have to be clear about the agar you are using does not have sheep’s blood in it, but until you are, I will continue to wonder.

Crappy old dictionary from school: I hate you. I hated you then, I hate you now. I can’t even guess how many words I tried to look up you didn’t have listed, but even the ones you did have listed were poorly defined and full of ambiguity. I bet you would define that as ‘opaque or hard to see’ wouldn’t you. Then we would all clearly understand.

 

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