Monday, October 4, 2010

Semantics, Shmamantics

This will be a quick post, because there isn't much to say, but more to get you to think. It occurred to me recently how important the meanings of words and the exactness which one uses said meanings are. I was in philosophy last week when, after I was giving my explanation for a certain topic, my professor stopped and said, "That was great up until you said, 'with all intents and purposes,' because after that.." and went on to explain how by uttering those five words my explanation became much weaker. It made me think of how precise and explicit my word choice needs to be as I get older. Yesterday, for that same class, while revising an essay, I found myself changing words that in vernacular speak sufficed, in essay form did nothing but to weaken my statement. I feel like I could continue and expand on how limited language really is (for example, words whose meaning is completely destroyed upon translation into other languages) in explaining concepts, but as I stated before, this post was more about a mental game for the reader.

1 comment:

  1. I had similar thoughts on my mind this afternoon during faculty meeting when the speaker asked if there are any questions, a teacher raised her hand and said, "I have a question...."

    On the one hand, the main point of language is to communicate ideas. When someone writes, "Ur stoopid," I know what they mean without chastising the spelling or vocabulary.

    On the other hand, words shape our thoughts and the right word can lead to interesting places. If you have ever planned out an argument or used someone as a "sounding board," you are just putting logical grammar and vocabulary to thoughts that are shapeless and vague. Without the other person saying a word, you can catch a mistake, develop a new theory, or change a relationship.

    In many (most?) contexts, it suffices to get a meaning across and move forward. In some places, though, it's essential to word things correctly.

    So, can I go to the bathroom?