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  #11  
Old Jul 6th 2010, 11:11 PM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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What do you mean when you say 'words aren't variable'? How do words have any existence apart from people? It's not as if a word has some transcendent objective meaning to which we are obliged to conform. We invent words, why should we not be able to change them, to bend them?

The word "atheist" (or any other word) means whatever people take it to mean. If everyone in the world except you thought that "atheist" meant some sort of finger sandwich stuffed with bacon and spinach, then it would be you, not them, who was impeding clarity by sticking to an out-dated and obscure definition. And using words to impede clarity sabotages the whole purpose of language.
No, officer, you don't have to give me a ticket. I get to dictate the rules, because I'm part of the society that created them.

You're still not thinking scientifically, though. That's my whole point. Language has a set of formal rules. Grammar is a set of formal rules. Words--and their structures--are a set of formal rules. Word definitions outside of the set of formal rules are arbitrary. We are the arbitrary factor. Large scale arbitrariness is no different from small-scale arbitrariness. The only difference is that, by defining words literally and not arbitrarily, it isn't arbitrary at all!

Remember, people used Ptolomy's half-scale map for years and years. It was the general consensus, and it was fucking wrong.

Again, I ask you, how is it more clear to define words arbitrarily, rather than by their... meanings?



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Now I strongly agree with you that we should all think carefully about how we choose our words and consider how they will be interpreted. But that should be the deciding factor: 'How will this be interpreted?' 'Will it convey what I want it to convey?' Not 'Is this the literal (or scientific) meaning of the word?'

WRT to cummings, I have no doubt that he carefully considered each word in that poem. But quite obviously, upon consideration, he decided that he could better convey what he wanted to convey if he did not tie himself to the literal meanings. You can't literally "dance a didn't". The literal meanings certainly come to mind and are (as you said) jarring. But if you stop there, jarred by the nonsensical nature of the literal definitions, then you miss the beauty of the poem. You have to, you're meant to, go beyond the literal.
Without the literal words aren't beautiful. It is through the comparison of the jarring juxtaposition with the inferred meaning that you are finding your beauty. However ninja feces aminal!!!!!! dragoncrayon.

Or, in other words, without the touchstone of the set structure of language, Cummings means nothing.

Enough people saying something doesn't mean that they are correct, or coherent. Just look at Sarah Palin et al.

Do you think that science and beauty are mutually exclusive? Do you think that the science behind communication isn't beautiful, or can't be? I think words are more beautiful for it.

So again, can you think about words scientifically?
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Well, I could refer you to the finger sandwich example, or back to cummings (one of the beauties of the poem is that it can mean different things), or you can simply look at almost any word in the OED.

"Humour" once referred to particular bodily fluids. Over time it also came to refer to moods associated with those fluids. Now it still can refer to moods as well as to things which cause amusement, but we've pretty much abandoned the original meaning altogether. And yet we still have a perfectly good and useful word.

It would only hinder our ability to communicate if we demanded that "humour" must only be used in its original sense.

And, good lord, what would become of Shakespeare if we demanded a literal interpretation of all his words and phrases?
"Humor" did once refer to bodily fluids. It also simultaneously referred to the moods and traits that were associated with said bodily fluids. Over time, you are correct, "humor" has come describe only those moods. The newly defined, more indistinct word has become synonymous with the preexisting nouns and adjectives that were commonly used during the Early Modern Era.

Shakespeare, like Cummings, used the literal before he used the abstract. The malapropisms, riposte, word play, they're all self-aware. Or do you think Shakespeare wasn't totally aware of everything he did? You think the literal wasn't the inspiration to gems like this: "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons." (Much Ado About Nothing), or, more to your aim, Hamlet's "crowner's quest?"

Let us ponder Hamlet's "crowner's quest" further. We all know Hamlet: Dad's murdered by the uncle, who is banging the mother, who is cold and distant to the son, who should have been king, except that dad was murdered by the uncle, who is banging the mother...


The "crowner's quest" is referenced by a clown, and we all recognize the malapropism (we're burying Ophelia at this point). Sure, we know that we're actually talking about the coroner, but we think about the crown first. Remember, crazy royal love triangles abound! The beauty still stems from the literal.




The goo of the word is still oozing from the vent of literalism.
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Last edited by Margot; Jul 6th 2010 at 11:17 PM.
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  #12  
Old Jul 6th 2010, 11:12 PM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

Not having a history with any of you, nor not having a clue as to what detritus I may be wading into, I would submit that words, like all human emotions-based communication, are infinitely pliable ( gooey ).

Rather than reiterate what others have said, I will simply leave it at this -
A picture is worth a thousand words, but a word is also worth a thousand pictures.
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  #13  
Old Jul 6th 2010, 11:19 PM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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Originally Posted by Mind's Eye View Post
Not having a history with any of you, nor not having a clue as to what detritus I may be wading into, I would submit that words, like all human emotions-based communication, are infinitely pliable ( gooey ).

Rather than reiterate what others have said, I will simply leave it at this -
A picture is worth a thousand words, but a word is also worth a thousand pictures.
OK, find me a thousand non-literal pictures for..."cantaloupe."
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Old Jul 7th 2010, 12:01 AM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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.
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Old Jul 7th 2010, 12:51 AM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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I suppose if you can write beautiful prose with fancy metaphors and flash around buzz words one only find in an SAT study brochure, suddenly science is everything you say it is, and the laws of gravity is reduced to Virginia Woolf. Pseudo science is just that. Congratulations.
I would suppose that being able to name obscure philosophers and use words only found in doctorate theses would have a much greater affect on one's ego. And lame attempts to publicly humiliate someone who challenges you scholastically is quite telling of your true character. Congratulations.
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Old Jul 7th 2010, 05:15 AM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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I would suppose that being able to name obscure philosophers and use words only found in doctorate theses would have a much greater affect on one's ego. And lame attempts to publicly humiliate someone who challenges you scholastically is quite telling of your true character. Congratulations.
your swaggering contempt for knowledge is facetious, and the level of pronounced ignorance is I'd say, pretty embarassing.

I am fairly certain that for the most part, the person I replied to knows those philosophers, and the terms of logic, scientific methods and criterion such as verifiability and falsifiability, in order to comprehend my point. Only the op, if anyone here, could lower down to your level of stubbornness when it comes to combative refusal of information. Like I said to her mother, between me and her it is about winning, not an exchange of ideas, likewise the purpose of this thread. You groupies will behave in the exact way as I have predicted on facebook- so stay the course my friend, let's see if you smack as poorly as she debates.
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Last edited by WFCY; Jul 7th 2010 at 05:22 AM.
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Old Jul 7th 2010, 08:55 AM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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your swaggering contempt for knowledge is facetious, and the level of pronounced ignorance is I'd say, pretty embarassing.

I am fairly certain that for the most part, the person I replied to knows those philosophers, and the terms of logic, scientific methods and criterion such as verifiability and falsifiability, in order to comprehend my point. Only the op, if anyone here, could lower down to your level of stubbornness when it comes to combative refusal of information. Like I said to her mother, between me and her it is about winning, not an exchange of ideas, likewise the purpose of this thread. You groupies will behave in the exact way as I have predicted on facebook- so stay the course my friend, let's see if you smack as poorly as she debates.
Thank you for insinuating my lack of intelligence, but you are the last person I seek approval from. My issue is not with your stance, nor with your reasoning behind that stance. Rather, it is with your lack of taste and class in the discussion leading up to you finally revealing your stance and the insults you continued to hurl while revealing (after several days and many posts) your sound and reasoned argument. I'm sure you're quite an intelligent and educated fellow, but your argumentative style is quite base and very troll-like.

I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law. - Immanuel Kant
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Old Jul 7th 2010, 09:58 AM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

It would appear this thread is a continuation of a discussion that began elsewhere, so I don't want to jump to any conclusions about it.

However, at the very least, can we please keep the personal comments out of this discussion? As it stands, there are some hot comments in this thread that should not be here. I dont want to see any more of them and I don't want to have to play forum cop here.

Lets try to keep/return this discussion to the civil standard that we are all accustomed to here.

And I don't want to argue about it here in this thread. Discuss the thread topic. If anyone has any issues, please pm me.
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Old Jul 7th 2010, 11:38 AM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

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Originally Posted by Margot View Post
You're still not thinking scientifically, though. That's my whole point. Language has a set of formal rules. Grammar is a set of formal rules. Words--and their structures--are a set of formal rules. Word definitions outside of the set of formal rules are arbitrary. We are the arbitrary factor. Large scale arbitrariness is no different from small-scale arbitrariness. The only difference is that, by defining words literally and not arbitrarily, it isn't arbitrary at all!
I agree, language involves a set of formal rules and, if we had no rules, we would have no language. I, personally, reject the idea of thinking of language "scientifically" because, when it comes to language, we make the rules and we can change them: they're entirely subjective. "Humour" once meant one thing, now it means another; we've changed the rules and that's perfectly OK.

Science, on the other hand, has an objective core to it. If F=MA is a valid rule, then we can't change it. We can't just decide that we'd rather Force=Volume*Distance and expect that to work. With science, there are right answers and our goal is to figure them out. And the answer that's true for one person is true for everyone: F=MA regardless of your culture, age or upbringing. In fact, F=MA regardless of whether anyone thinks it does or not.

My concern with thinking of words or language "scientifically", or rather, of only thinking of language scientifically, is that one risks imagining that words have a similar objective core, that there is a definition to a word that is 'right', regardless of what anyone (or everyone) thinks, and that we should never let it evolve. I'm not saying that language doesn't need formal rules (it does) and that agreed upon definitions aren't important (they are), only that we, as a culture, are the ones who make the rules and decide upon the definitions. And as long as we are all on the same page and it doesn't impede clarity, there's nothing wrong with changing the rules and letting definitions evolve.

As to the relationship between "beauty" and "science," I don't see them as in contestation at all, though "beauty" is not a scientific concept. My point is just that there's beauty and meaning in language outside, as well as within, the "scientific" or literal meaning of words. The literal can be lovely and thought-provoking, but so can the symbolic, metaphorical and emotive. So while we should never lose track of the literal, we also shouldn't be entirely constrained by it or belittle the non-literal: there's beauty and meaning there too.
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Last edited by dilettante; Jul 7th 2010 at 11:41 AM.
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  #20  
Old Jul 7th 2010, 04:11 PM
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

I concur with dilettante and Michael with regards to the subjectivity and fluidity of language. It is after all, a human creation, not a natural/physical phenomenon.
That is, while it certainly has as set of rules (it would need to in order to serve its purpose), those rules are completely reliant on context and make sense/cohere only in the culture they were created in.
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