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Old Jul 23rd 2010, 08:30 PM
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Margot Margot is offline
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

Originally Posted by Michael View Post
I just found this little gem hiding on the first page of the thread. It explains a lot.

While I certainly will assert that words (like people) are always variable, I most certainly wouldn't dream of pretending that this is efficient or effective for anything except variety itself. I think it is just in the nature of these things themselves (people and words) that they are variable.

Now if you are asserting that words ought not to be variable, that's another issue entirely, but on the question of whether words are, or are not, actually variable, I don't think there is any doubt that they in fact are quite variable, malleable, flexible and prone to morph-like behaviors. Whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing is yet another issue as well.

(Indeed, to judge whether any given thing is a "good or bad thing" requires that we initially define the moral compass or measuring scale to be used and that, more often than not, is even more challenging than the initial question itself! )

As for scientific precision, I think that's impossible to achieve using written words alone. Words, by definition, are symbols that represent other things. You have used the example of "moose", but that is only the word-symbol that represents a specific type of large mammal - the word itself is not an actual moose. Likewise with "atheism", that is only a word-symbol that represents an idea or social construct - it is not a thing in itself (other than as a word-symbol).

And symbols, by definition, will often admit of alternative interpretations. How can one be certain that one is reading the 'correct' interpretation of any given symbol? (since one sees/hears only the 'word-symbol' or 'word-sound') that represents a moose, not a moose itself).

And if words really do have some intrinsic or fundamental meaning specific to each word, how come we have such oddities as "leading" being the word used in the art of typography to precisely define the size of the space between two lines of type? Please keep in mind of course that the word (originally) specifically referred to the layers of actual strips of lead being used for the spacing in the ancient art of manual printing (Gutenburg style).

That is to say, if the meaning of a word is intrinsic to itself, the meaning of "leading" ought to pertain to the use of lead, not the digital use of spacing on a webpage design (for example).

I certainly don't have a problem with words behaving oddly or having anachronistic origins. Indeed, I think that is what gives them character.

Btw, the term "boy" used to mean something entirely different than what we use that word for nowadays - a male child. That's a relatively modern application of that particular word (of no known origin!). Same is true of "girl".

Generally speaking, I find the history of the changing meanings of words over time to be very interesting. If words must be read with scientific precision, then I'm afraid that we will need a law against the use of the English language itself. As I've argued in other threads previously, the English language originates as a bastard language - which won out over time against Latin and French, which are both better suited for scientific precision.
Ah. I see our problem!

I think the problem here is the distinct poststructuralist overtone. Derrida would be very proud. Derrida, for those of us who haven't taken Literary Theory (>.<)

What I'm asking is for people to quit looking at words in the "endless chain of signifiers,"--outside the realm of Différance.

If we say that words are inherently mutable, then it's a moot point. And by "it," I mean all of communication. If language is inherently mutable, then where do we draw the line? What stops us from all arbitrarily redefining words? I've just decided that "Michael" now means "people from Canada." Later I may decide it also means, "all smart people on the internet," and, after that I could again change it to mean "moose." Don't forget, however, that "Michael" has also always meant "Margot's first boyfriend, and all the baggage that goes along with that (including breaking-and-entering, digging cow-traps, climbing fences, discussing white phosphorous, being used, being crushed, being angry, etc.)"

Does "Michael" have a different meaning for you? If so, then we might as well just make sounds at each other and hope for the best, because all communication is lost at that point. Trying to regulate the amount of arbitrary re-defining that goes on in a language is just more arbitrariness on top of everything that is already arbitrary.

The system that you advocate puts a greater value on the speaker-signifier relationship than the relationship between the signifier-signified. However, as speakers, as the creators, we have created that signifier-signified relationship. We created it so that we could come to an agreement. If, however, we place a greater relationship on the speaker-signifier relationship, it can easily become speaker-signifier-signifier-signifier-signifier relationship--a relationship inherently more complicated than the less arbitrary signifier-signified relationship.

As for "leading:"

1. AWESOME. I didn't know that, and that's EXACTLY why I made this thread. (when I go to my text document and select "double-space," is that the poor-man's version of leading, right? God! I LOVE learning new words!)

2. "Leading" reminds me of the previously mentioned example of "humors." Again I ask, what is the strength or value in redefining a pre-existing word? Variety has been lost, and a chance at variety has been lost.

Finally, I loved this:

And symbols, by definition, will often admit of alternative interpretations. How can one be certain that one is reading the 'correct' interpretation of any given symbol? (since one sees/hears only the 'word-symbol' or 'word-sound') that represents a moose, not a moose itself).
Have you read Jean Baudrillard's The Spirit of Terrorism? In it, Baudrillard addresses the power of symbols and, more importantly, the power in destroying symbols. The essay is about September 11th, but more importantly, the modern terrorist. “Never attack the system in terms of relations of force,” is Baudrillard’s understanding of the modern terroristic mind, instead “shift the struggle into the symbolic sphere” (17).

I agree with Baudrillard: symbols are not only fragile, they're prone. They're susceptible to attack. The best way to shore up our communication--our symbols--against attack is to treat them as a science. Treat them as something immutable. If we treat our words as mutable symbols, it is, at least in my opinion, an act of terrorism against communication in general.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!

For a good time call Judges 19:24-30

Last edited by Margot; Jul 23rd 2010 at 08:41 PM. Reason: too much esoteric snark
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