87 (5) pg 297

Variation, a precious lesson. Why we need to keep in mind the origin and meaning of to vet, to fit and survival of the fittest

The expression survival of the fittest most often has a misleading connotation in contemporaryears and minds not familiar with genetics and the scientific basis of breeding. Among live organisms,heritable variation is a prerequisite for survival of a species in changing conditions of life.Variants fitting best into new conditions survive and will have the greatest chances to reproducethemselves. This is the meaning of fit in the well-known expression ‘survival of the fittest’, coinedby Herbert Spencer on Darwin’s idea of ‘natural selection’. In order to understand this, a shortlinguistic description is given, starting with to vet, meaning ‘to examine thoroughly’, a relativelyrecent expression (19th century), which at first sight seems to originate from the examinationsdone by veterinarians (vets) on racing horses, before they are allotted to certain categories in theraces. Nowadays the term is especially used in the context of checking persons applying for jobs,business takeover bids and similar situations involving a certain degree of trustworthiness. To fithas a much older pedigree. The earliest attestations are found in mediaeval texts relating militaryor fighting episodes in which the adversaries are considered to be of equal power. This survivedlater on in horse racing competitions and gradually acquired the sense of fitting one thing intoanother, or to fit into a category. For living organisms, to fit into prevailing conditions of life isof utmost importance. It was only in the previous century that the meaning of fit changed intohealthy and strong, possibly also influenced by the use of this term in racing competitions.

Full text: 
pp 297-299
Veterinary past