The Lamentable Limits of Language

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I may have mentioned this before but I think it’s an important point, so you’ll have to bear with me. 

Regular readers (all five of you), may have noticed a new section to my blog. Namely the ‘Word of the Week’, I’m doing this largely to highlight cool words that I find and to expand my own vocabulary. Why should I want to do such a thing? Well…. The English language, or any language for that matter, is a seriously flawed tool. We have words that sound the same but mean different things, or different words that mean the same thing… Frankly it’s amasing that we can have any sort of meaningful communication.

However, until someone comes up with a technological means to share our thoughts directly; we’re stuck using language with all it’s little foibles and pit-falls. If you’ve ever tried to have a philosophical, religious or political argument with someone, then you’ve probably ended up arguing about the meaning of certain terms (like ‘reality’, ‘god’ or ‘communism’) instead of dealing with the issues themselves. A lot of this cannot be avoided: basic words  get co-opted as jargon by various disciplines, often meaning vastly different things depending on the context or who you’re talking to.

Some of these troubles can be avoided if all participants in a discussion have a good grasp of the language they’re using. If we have a large vocabulary to chose from, we can select the words that best encapsulate the subtle meanings and emphasis of the idea we’re trying to convey.

So if you’ve found, heard or used a cool word recently, drop me a mail or post a comment and I’ll share it here.

In The News:

A Robot In Every Korean Kindergarden By 2013 – I think that with the state of education in South Africa and the quality of teaching in rural schools, a slightly more advanced version of these things would be a massive boon to this country.

Real Time Holograms Beam Closer – So cool…. “Help me Obi-Wan Kinobi, you’re my only hope”.

50th Anniversary of SETI Commemorated With New Observing Project – the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence has been running for 50 years… wow.

Implanted Retinal Chip Allows Blind People To See – a new wave of cyborgs are about to hit the street… cool.

Precognition study at Cornell University – and it’s coming up positive…

Word of the Week:

Specificity (noun):
The quality of being specific rather than general
E.g.:  add a desirable note of specificity to the discussion
E.g.:  the specificity of the symptoms of the disease

I hope you enjoyed this weeks post, as always if you liked it: post a comment and tell your friends. See you next week.

“It’s a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water”
-Franklin P. Jones


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