25/01/2011

Equivocative



"Something must be done.
This is something.
Therefore, this must be done
."
- Yes, Minister


An idea for a very lazy academic book: email a bunch of linguists & philosophers of language, polling their top 5 Worst Equivocations (in terms of: Whorfian damage to the world's consciousness, source of misunderstanding, or just plain distaste.)

Everyone gets what they want: they to moan about polysemes, I to have a free book. Here's mine:


  1. "God"

    So vague - but the speaker always has a determinate cosmocrat in mind. This allows much smugness in otherwise sincere discussion. I'm sure other languages but English and other cultures have their own "real" deity name. There's no excuse for it, but veiled, self-superior syncretism ("Well, you mean my god when you say 'God'"), either:
    - Allah has loads!
    - But not as many as that one.
    - The African ones, rarer and rarer...
    - Hinduism makes long bloody lists and sings them.
    - Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna
    - Check the graph on this.
    - Spinoza's substance / Einstein's personified nature.
    - UFOs...

    At least the word's sexist.

  2. "Rationalism"


    i) Originally, and still academically, "one who believes in deductive logic as criterion of synthetic truth". (Better: Continental rationalism.
    ii) Now gets more commonly used for anyone who likes reason and efficiency a lot, most of all for atheistic intellectual scientists, who, as empiricists are more or less the opposite of the folk in (i). (Note the dark side of the admirable attitude, though.)

  3. "Realism"

    More academic than (2), even, and far more stretched and ruined:

    i) Literality; rejecting ideals
    ii) Self-exalting political conservatism
    iii) Family of purportedly objective art-styles.
    iv) Power politics. Nasty, repugnant and truthy. (International-relations realism)
    v) Racial realism (eugenicists and supremacists)
    vi) Family of philosophical theories holding mind-independence of various stuff:
    - Notion that reality is ontologically independent. - Notion that beauty and are intrinsic to objects. (Aesthetic realism) - Notion that nothing Kant said was right. (Speculative realism) - Notion that science is a means to actual truth. (Scientific realism) - Notion that all logically possible situations obtain in ontological parallel (Modal realism) - Notion that mental events are only real if brain correlate found for it. (Neuro-realism) - Notion that there exist moral objects/single objective answers to ethical questions. (Moral realism)


  4. "War on [x]"
    "This ain't no war"
    "What, why?'
    "Cos wars end."

    - The Wire

    "Don't let any...despair in there!"
    "No Mr Magner, we won't Mr Magner, cos that's an abstract concept and it can't really be added or substracted to physical objects like cider Mr Magner."

    - Stewart Lee

    Endorses miltary response to social problems. Implies a fixed enemy which one's actions cannot in fact bolster. Implies rules of engagement. Implies an achievable victory. Fails on all counts (because not even the highest Orwellian government can kill concepts).

5. "He"

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