Thursday, May 17, 2012

Words, words and more words

Do you ever stop to think about the meaning of words?

Do you ever get annoyed when you ask a question and someone tells you "wait, first define ...."?

I've always believed that arguments and debates are to be carried out only if the people discussing whatever matter, either know each other really well, or are willing to pay extra attention to the way in which a party uses a word.

You may agree that some of the words we use are generally defined by personal experience. For instance: love, hatred, laziness... You can only speak of love or hatred as you know it, not necessarily felt, it could be read, imagined etc... But however you understand what you see, hear or read about love remains remains relative to your perception and your capacity to go beyond and know what it might mean to others.  The same with laziness, in a more pragmatical way; what you call being lazy may still very be active for the other and vice versa.

For that reason, you can be having a conversation with someone and think you know the person, or at least what you are discussing. Yet you don't because all you know is however much you can know being who you are, what you've experienced and how you define things.

Of course there are people who are capable of understanding the other, not in the cliche way of understanding, but they are literally able to push beyond their own thinking and perception to grasp what the other one is thinking and what it means to them.

When you find those people, don't let them go.
They are rare. (Although I may be the only one to care about this)

So, are there words that are defined intrinsically by their name and term?

I wonder, because if that were the case, we humans would be able to talk and only have to explain thoughts and ideas that we come up with, and not the words that we share with a billion other people.


  1. Very interesting question. From a hashkafic perspective- H' created the word using lashon hakodesh, so those words are so intrinsically defined to the extent that they are the recipe for creation. From a secular philosophical perspective- Plato believed that we name things based their intrinsic traits, like we call a chair a chair because it possesses a degree of chairness- and that's how we refer to all the different types of chairs even if one is 4 legged, one has wheels and one is a barstool. The position that you are arguing seems to be that language is simply a set of conventions that we all agreed to use. We call a furry thing that barks a dog, because a long time ago a bunch of people agreed to call it a dog, but these artificial symbols are limited and/or simplistic.

    I think you would get a kick out of Loki's Wager if you haven't heard of it already.

    But yeah, after all this philosophy that came to mind... I hear you and cannot stand being lawyered based on semantics.

  2. HI Shomer TOucher,

    I believe this is your first comment on my blog so welcome :)

    I love what you just said about Lashon Hakodesh. I had forgotten about it's meaning and value since I dont really study Hebrew texts like I used to in school. I think it's exactly what I was trying to say. I always knew I was spiritual somewhere...

    But concerning the conventional use of language, it's even more than that. To use your example with the chairs:
    Say you come from a place where you've only see chairs that are very tall and I come from somewhere where all chairs are really small. If you tell me you bumped into a chair and hurt yourself, im gonna picture you bumping into a small chair (even if i might be aware that your planet has big chairs) and I will only think or react in as much as i can imagine the impact of you bumping into a small chair. But you all along know that it was a tall chair and even if you tell me it was this tall, I might lengthen the picture of the chair in my mind but probably will never know the chair the same way you do. It's a silly example but it's a concept that can be applied to words that carry more meaning, like emotions etc...

    My family thrives on semantics but that might just be cause we're all bilingual

  3. I think staying quiet is so much easier. Maybe I'll become a hermit. :D