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  #21  
Old Jul 7th 2010, 04:51 PM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

Aloha.

I will agree that words are "gooey". In fact, I like the word gooey for this discussion. It appears that we all understand what is meant by that in this application and therefore, I will refrain from using the quotation marks during our discussion on this topic.

See what I just did?
It may look like a leger demain. It should. If you're thinking about what I just did, it should look as if I am supporting both Margot and opposing viewpoints.
This I do not for the primary sake of placating anyone's emotional health. Although I care very deeply for many of you, I am of the opinion that backing up into unemotional, straightforward discussion is always the best method to resolve problems.

If WFCY is saying what I think he wishes to say, I agree. That is, words are inadequate to express the complexity of philosophy (as are mathematical expressions inadequate to express the complexity of nature). Thus, words become gooey.

However, we do not abandon words when communication is critical. We do not intentionally obscure meaning when our aim is to be clear. WFCY gives the example of a liar. How could we ever communicate clearly with a liar who simply uses word deliberately to obscure truth? Indeed, it is a brilliant and successful way to identify a liar as nearly all of you (one would hope), have experienced on this discussion forums and throughout life.
When two people intentionally obscure words, communication is impossible. In fact, communication is worthless. The true aim of such discussions, is a very base appeal to emotion.
When one intentionally obscures meaning through words and one does not, the liar can be identified nearly immediately by all who are not immediately subject to emotional appeal.

Examples of such intentional use of intentional obfuscation by gooey word usage: ad hominem, straw-man, fallacies of ambiguity (equivocation, in this case, is particularly relevant).

Indeed, clarification of logical fallacies are born of the need for clear communication and extremely common in uncritical debate.

As to the artistic usage of gooey-ness, I can not find fault with Margot's argument; It only works when the audience understands the rather less gooey definitions and usage. In essence, the agreed upon context, usage, and spelling, are requisite to carry off the art.

Last edited by JHC; Jul 7th 2010 at 05:00 PM.
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  #22  
Old Jul 7th 2010, 04:57 PM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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Originally Posted by Greendruid View Post
I get a little bit of what you're saying here Margot. There are some truly amazing ... cross-references to the historical development of words that are embedded in their current usages. Some words, as many have pointed out, have gone through some upheavals and changes such that their original meanings are lost and even counterpointed to their current usages. Indeed, there are some revealing truths about word selection. I've often noted to Michael that he has a Germanic slant to his English word choice whereas I have a Latin slant to mine.

However, I think that you will find that if you do some digging into the topic of phonology and linguistic semantics (and there's a word that gets mangled out of that specific context) that the words of other languages do not behave as simply as you may think. I don't know if you speak any other languages at all but there are, in some languages, administrative bodies dedicated to the measured and metered usage of words within said language. French is the easiest example of this. English lacks one.

Words are organic. I wouldn't use the word gooey because I find that to be too nebulous a term. Now, organic can certainly be viewed scientifically, as Margot has suggested. But, we can't really appreciate the oyster or the bacterium or the moose as life-forms without taking a step back. A moose is a mammal. It is also brown, large, smelly, beautiful, hideous, slow, fast, aggressive and peaceful. It is all these things at the same time. Words are the same in this sense I think.

Next, I present you with the riddle that is the Goidelic language branch. It defines phonological rules of noun declension and verb conjugation at irregular intervals. There have been no successful attempts to write the phonology of the Goidelic languages. The word for "girl" in Erse is "cailŪn". It is a ... masculine noun ... There is no science in that other than that the apparent "form" of the phonemes is masculine for a very arbitrary reason chosen centuries before the first attempts to codify and write the language down using the Roman script.

In closing, I think that there are scientific aspects to language. We are all aware of the target definition of many of the words we use and the semantics that apply to their order, syntax, etc. However, sometimes that target can shift entirely outside of the expected and a new meaning emerges. I really puzzled at TDG's recent expletive "Fuck yo couch, Margot." The target for "couch" rests entirely outside of my known definitional zone. Many words are context-dependent, and that is not science. Slang is especially evident of this. It is almost generation-specific language. This limits the use of those words in some ways and expands them in others. Inside, "us", groups can be formed while outside, "them", groups are contemporaneously developed. The targets are key. They must be loosely agreed upon by speakers of the same language. However, I emphasise loosely - it is the necessary organic ingredient that makes language change and emerge anew a few hundred years later.
I'm not saying that all languages follow the same set laws. What I'm saying is that English has very clear laws, and our words have very clear meanings. If I were speaking French, I would include their sets of rules (as it stands, with four years of French under my belt I can still barely ask "where is the bathroom?"). I might discuss the liaison, or word genders, I would discuss the roots of their nouns and verbs. I'm not discussing the French language, but if I were, I would most definitely hold those linguistic laws to the same standard to which I hold our English examples. For example: if I were to write in French, I would include all accent marks.

A moose may be subject to many adjectives, but it is still a moose. The word is representative of the thing--not of one's relationship to it. The word "moose" means "moose." Why should I cater to your opinion of a moose when I discuss a moose? That some may find them "beautiful" and some may find them "hideous" doesn't affect the nature of the moose itself. If I choose to address the moose's other qualities, I must do so explicitly. Would you assume that I meant "fast" when I said "moose," or would I have to say "boy! Look at that moose run?"

If you assume that I mean that the moose is fast when I say "moose," you are subjecting yourself to misinformation. I have been clear, you have not.
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Last edited by Margot; Jul 7th 2010 at 05:10 PM.
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  #23  
Old Jul 7th 2010, 09:48 PM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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Originally Posted by Margot View Post
OK, find me a thousand non-literal pictures for..."cantaloupe."
Now your trying to put cantaloupe in my mouth.

No matter how gooey, images , by necessity, cannot be literal.

Take your cantaloupe, for example.

How does one know it is , in fact, a cantaloupe?

Quote:
Cantaloupe, American - a muskmelon with a raised netting over a smooth grayish-beige skin, pale orange flesh, large seed cavity with many seeds and a sweet, refreshing, distinctive flavor; also known as a netted melon or nutmeg melon.
Unless one knows beforehand what a cantaloupe looks like, images are meaningless.

The presence of certain physical attributes determines whether or not you are viewing a cantaloupe. W/O knowing the meanings of the words describing it, one would not know it was this particular type of melon. Words describing words is figurative.

I could as easily ask you to provide me a single, all-encompassing literal image for " heaven " or " paradise ".

Can't be done.
Your image of paradise is not likely to be mine.
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Old Jul 7th 2010, 11:57 PM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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Originally Posted by Mind's Eye View Post
Now your trying to put cantaloupe in my mouth.

No matter how gooey, images , by necessity, cannot be literal.

Take your cantaloupe, for example.

How does one know it is , in fact, a cantaloupe?


Unless one knows beforehand what a cantaloupe looks like, images are meaningless.

The presence of certain physical attributes determines whether or not you are viewing a cantaloupe. W/O knowing the meanings of the words describing it, one would not know it was this particular type of melon. Words describing words is figurative.

I could as easily ask you to provide me a single, all-encompassing literal image for " heaven " or " paradise ".

Can't be done.
Your image of paradise is not likely to be mine.
Turn that around; if you had never seen a cantaloupe and I tried to explain it to you with words, you may not be able to taste it but you would be able to paint a picture and you would know that it would be sweet rather than bitter or sour. How?
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  #25  
Old Jul 8th 2010, 01:30 AM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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Originally Posted by Margot View Post
I'm not saying that all languages follow the same set laws. What I'm saying is that English has very clear laws, and our words have very clear meanings. If I were speaking French, I would include their sets of rules (as it stands, with four years of French under my belt I can still barely ask "where is the bathroom?"). I might discuss the liaison, or word genders, I would discuss the roots of their nouns and verbs. I'm not discussing the French language, but if I were, I would most definitely hold those linguistic laws to the same standard to which I hold our English examples. For example: if I were to write in French, I would include all accent marks.

A moose may be subject to many adjectives, but it is still a moose. The word is representative of the thing--not of one's relationship to it. The word "moose" means "moose." Why should I cater to your opinion of a moose when I discuss a moose? That some may find them "beautiful" and some may find them "hideous" doesn't affect the nature of the moose itself. If I choose to address the moose's other qualities, I must do so explicitly. Would you assume that I meant "fast" when I said "moose," or would I have to say "boy! Look at that moose run?"

If you assume that I mean that the moose is fast when I say "moose," you are subjecting yourself to misinformation. I have been clear, you have not.
I really have to disagree with you entirely. I don't know if you know any other languages or not. However, if you don't then one's ignorance of them becomes the very root of the problem. English is not special. It has its own unique quirks in that it has a vocabulary likely to rival every other language that has ever been created. But it really does lack some key characteristics that other languages thrive upon. And in fact, this is where my point about the moose originates.

Words are indeed worth a thousand pictures. When you say moose, I don't just think about the animal no matter how much you'd like that to be the case. I think about it's smell, my fear of the size of the animal, the different moose I've seen in my life, where it lives. All kinds of information comes to my mind that is quite directly connected to the word in my brain and some that is quite indirectly connected.

Some languages do this in an unavoidable fashion. The Algonkian languages are a perfect example of this. The languages are verb-centred (in contrast with Indo-European languages which are noun-centred). It is quite impossible to "name" things in a detached fashion in these languages without a context to them. The nouns themselves mostly contain modified verbs that tell you something about the thing rather than the sort of arbitrary phonemes we use in English that have little or no linguistic connexion to the object they describe any more.

The abstract (inanimate) nouns in English are probably the closest we can some to this only because those abstracts are usually bound up in context for each speaker. As soon as I use one of these, my brain has a hard time not thinking about a contextual use of the abstract. For instance, if I hear the word "kiss" I can't help but think about a specific kiss or the act of kissing or the sound that a kiss makes. This inevitably and unavoidably brings up emotional ties in the brain to these specific, contextual events. A word is worth a thousand pictures.
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Old Jul 9th 2010, 03:54 PM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

I was reading a thread similar to this one on another discussion forum. The author posted an article from some Catholic authority who proposed that the problem with inadequate language use was one of increasing lack of faith.

Being me, I mulled that over for a while. I'm still mulling. Last night, while mulling all the possible problems with our communication, I gave a little more thought to our word gooey.

Anyone else find that an interesting homophone?

I'm talking about GUI of course. Graphical User Interface - pronounced gooey.
Back in the day, I worked for a large property developer. They would build golf course communities and then sell the entire community association to the homeowners over time.

Anyway, part of my job was to help select and purchase the software and hardware that would tie golf shops, restaurants and club houses, bar carts, just about everything, to accounting/finance department. This was sooooooo long ago that we were on the cutting edge when we chose GUI software for the restaurants so that they could track their inventory and report sales all by having the servers touch a screen with a picture.



The point I'm working around to is what may be a trend away from phonemes and graphemes and toward pictures. Perhaps the Chinese have language right and yet, what happens to precision?

When we want to communicate precisely are we left with math? It is hard to argue that there is no connection there when logic in language and logic in math use very similar equations and definitions.

Don't panic! That's what my dad used to tell me about nearly everything. He was right. The more critical the task, the more important it is to be clear headed and clear in communication. Once you've mastered that, the art of language follows. No good language artist is so haphazardly.
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  #27  
Old Jul 10th 2010, 03:36 AM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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Originally Posted by Greendruid View Post
I really have to disagree with you entirely. I don't know if you know any other languages or not. However, if you don't then one's ignorance of them becomes the very root of the problem. English is not special. It has its own unique quirks in that it has a vocabulary likely to rival every other language that has ever been created. But it really does lack some key characteristics that other languages thrive upon. And in fact, this is where my point about the moose originates.

Words are indeed worth a thousand pictures. When you say moose, I don't just think about the animal no matter how much you'd like that to be the case. I think about it's smell, my fear of the size of the animal, the different moose I've seen in my life, where it lives. All kinds of information comes to my mind that is quite directly connected to the word in my brain and some that is quite indirectly connected.

Some languages do this in an unavoidable fashion. The Algonkian languages are a perfect example of this. The languages are verb-centred (in contrast with Indo-European languages which are noun-centred). It is quite impossible to "name" things in a detached fashion in these languages without a context to them. The nouns themselves mostly contain modified verbs that tell you something about the thing rather than the sort of arbitrary phonemes we use in English that have little or no linguistic connexion to the object they describe any more.

The abstract (inanimate) nouns in English are probably the closest we can some to this only because those abstracts are usually bound up in context for each speaker. As soon as I use one of these, my brain has a hard time not thinking about a contextual use of the abstract. For instance, if I hear the word "kiss" I can't help but think about a specific kiss or the act of kissing or the sound that a kiss makes. This inevitably and unavoidably brings up emotional ties in the brain to these specific, contextual events. A word is worth a thousand pictures.

Hold yer horses there, partner! What on Earth gives you the impression that I think English is "special?" Like I said, If we were speaking in French, I would be just as committed to those rules which govern the French language. If we were speaking in the language of the Glorkiin alien invaders, I would make the same demands on that language. I have not said that we should apply the English rules towards other languages. Likewise for Algonkian. I am saying that we should be scientific with language and with communication. Other languages may sound different, but my stipulation still holds.

However, I would like to turn the moose question back onto myself. I feel that it is unfair of me to put the burden onto you, since you don't seem to be understanding my basic premise in the first place.

Imagine this:
Greendruid: "So, yeah, moose--"
Margot: bursts into uncontrollable sobs, falls to the floor weeping. Tears at her own hair, leaving bald patches.

What part of the word moose brought about that reaction?

A moose is a moose. My relationship to the word is irrelevant without contextualizing that relationship to the word. Your relationship to the world is equally irrelevant. Only the word matters.

You may conjure "a thousand pictures" with just one word, but what makes you think that I can pick out which one you're trying to convey?
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Old Jul 10th 2010, 10:15 AM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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However, I would like to turn the moose question back onto myself. I feel that it is unfair of me to put the burden onto you, since you don't seem to be understanding my basic premise in the first place.

Imagine this:
Greendruid: "So, yeah, moose--"
Margot: bursts into uncontrollable sobs, falls to the floor weeping. Tears at her own hair, leaving bald patches.

What part of the word moose brought about that reaction?

A moose is a moose. My relationship to the word is irrelevant without contextualizing that relationship to the word. Your relationship to the world is equally irrelevant. Only the word matters.

You may conjure "a thousand pictures" with just one word, but what makes you think that I can pick out which one you're trying to convey?
I think this comes down to the 'supposed' purpose of any given communication.

Does one communicate (in writing or speech or otherwise) for the purpose of conveying some precise information to others for some tangible purpose? Or is it used to express one's self? Expressing one's self is valid regardless if others understand it because one's full understanding is irrelevant to someone else's self-expression.

I guess the point I'm making here is that relativism will always rear its ugly head. It is all about context. In some situations, precision of meaning is very important for conveying information, but in other situations, ambiguity or uncertainty about precise meaning might not matter.

For example, I might compose a poem that pleases me greatly (and maybe one or two of my closest friends) in which case, I might not care if you didn't fully understand or comprehend or even like that poem at all because I didn't write it for you - I composed it for myself and my small circle of friends. That's what I mean by the 'supposed purpose' of communication - it is always relative and so are the words we use and how we use them - they are very flexible.
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Old Jul 10th 2010, 04:25 PM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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I think this comes down to the 'supposed' purpose of any given communication.

Does one communicate (in writing or speech or otherwise) for the purpose of conveying some precise information to others for some tangible purpose? Or is it used to express one's self? Expressing one's self is valid regardless if others understand it because one's full understanding is irrelevant to someone else's self-expression.

I guess the point I'm making here is that relativism will always rear its ugly head. It is all about context. In some situations, precision of meaning is very important for conveying information, but in other situations, ambiguity or uncertainty about precise meaning might not matter.

For example, I might compose a poem that pleases me greatly (and maybe one or two of my closest friends) in which case, I might not care if you didn't fully understand or comprehend or even like that poem at all because I didn't write it for you - I composed it for myself and my small circle of friends. That's what I mean by the 'supposed purpose' of communication - it is always relative and so are the words we use and how we use them - they are very flexible.
I think Margot already covered this. If your friends didn't know you, then they wouldn't get it either and your expression of yourself wouldn't express anything to anyone but you.

Perhaps to your set of friends, there is a shared experience on the subject of moose such that your discussion holds separate meaning. But even amongst your niche group, you had to start with mutual understanding of definitions before any poetic license would have an effect.

The problem is when one assumes that their extra meaning is shared by all such that every time they mention moose, everyone understands why they cry and pull out their hair.

Perhaps this is only relevant to Canadians.

Down here in South Florida, most folks couldn't tell a moose from a mule deer. If you engaged in a discussion about moose, you'd have to start from scratch. If you wanted them to understand your special Canadian meaning that carried some additional emotional attribute, you'd have to add that in on top of the basic meaning.

Now then, there is no denying that you and I, for instance, have a very different perspective. If I ask you to give me directions, the best possible answer would be north, south, east, west and some unit of distance. This is the basis that underlies all earthly directions. Even if it isn't what I am used to, it ensures the least amount of ambiguity.

Absolutely, context is everything. The more important a topic is, the more important it is to begin with a mutual understanding of the premise and the more important that is, the more important it is to use the least ambiguous speech.

Clearly, I'm on Margot's side and not just because she is a goddess.

To say that it is not important to be unambiguous about a particular subject is to dismiss the subject altogether as unimportant. When Margot says, FOR INSTANCE, that the literal definition of atheism is a=without theism=belief in god(s), and you argue that this is not the widely known definition, all you are saying is that it is unimportant what the literal definition is.
And, if it is unimportant as literally defined yet important as interpretively defined, then it is effectively dismissed altogether.
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Old Jul 10th 2010, 06:51 PM
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I think this thread is crying out for a shared definition of "literal". What defines the literal meaning of a word or phrase?

Is it the commonly accepted definition?
Is it the official definition given by the language's governing body (or whatever might be closest for languages that don't have one of these)?
Is it the original definition?

If we're to look at the word "atheism", then the commonly accepted definition (at least in the US) is, roughly, one who believes God(s) do(es) not exist; the dictionary definition is either "a disbelief in the existence of deity" or "the doctrine that there is no deity"; and the original definition is akin to "ungodliness" or "wickedness" and, as Michael pointed out, was generally used with regard to some Christians by others.

IMO, all of these are "literal" definitions. As long as you use the word "atheist" in a non-symbolic, non-metaphorical sense, then you're using the word literally.

I can respect Margot's desire to break the word down into its root components, but I suggest that in this case that approach is, at best, arbitrary and open to interpretation.
She breaks it down as 'a'-negative 'theism'-belief in God => "not believing in God". Thus she has the prefix modify the belief, the 'ism'. But it makes at least as much sense to break it down as 'a'-negative 'theo'-God 'ism'-belief => (no God) belief => "the belief in no God." Here the prefix modifies 'theo' rather than 'ism'. That would follow the pattern of "polytheism" (poly-many theo-God ism-belief => (many gods) belief => belief in many gods). If we used Margot's system, we would define polytheism as "many beliefs in God", which clearly isn't right.

Anyway, at the very least, the "literal" definition should never be one that is neither the common, nor the official, nor the original use of a word. In the case of "atheism," Margot's definition is one of the official definitions, but it is not the only one nor is it the original or common usage. As such, I don't see how it has any greater claim to being the "literal" definition than the more common, equally official alternative.
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