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Informavore

This word is always applied to human beings. By analogy with terms like herbivore and carnivore, it seeks to suggest that we are a species that lives by processing and communicating information.

It’s not a particularly appropriate linguistic analogy as a matter of fact, as the only thing all these words have in common is the suffix -ivore. That’s a close relative of our voracious, and comes from the Latin vorare “to devour”. So it properly refers to consumption rather than manipulation. Though it’s sometimes said that we humans devour information, we actually process it, not consume it.

Cognitive scientists usually take informavore to refer to our ability to manipulate representations of the outside world inside our heads and to transmit information to each other through language. These are regarded by many as the crucial abilities that distinguish modern humans from all other species. The word is sometimes used in connection with the huge growth in information media in the developed countries in the latter part of this century.

Its coinage is usually attributed to the psychologist George Miller in the 1980s, but it has achieved wider circulation in the 1990s through popular works by Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker.

The user is an adaptive informavore who makes use of extensive resources, interleaving planned and opportunistic episodes and using both automatic and intentional processes.

Lisa Tweedie, “Interactive Visualisation Artifacts”, in People and Computers X, Proceedings of the HCI'95 Conference (1996)

We would expect organisms, especially informavores such as humans, to have evolved acute intuitions about probability.

Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (1997)

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 3 Apr. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-inf3.htm
Last modified: 3 April 1999.