2 of 3
2
word
Posted: 09 January 2012 11:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2344
Joined  2007-01-30

Ah, the way of the plough! I guess it would have to speed things up a little, the eyes not having to zing back each line like an old typewriter carriage. But significantly? Hmm, I’m not sure of that.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 January 2012 04:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  359
Joined  2012-01-10

I believe Judge Stewart observed that he knew “obscenity” when he saw it, not, as it is typically paraphrased, that he knew pornography when he saw it.  Obscenity is a legal term of art, in a first amendment context, which refers to speech that is so offensive and which is of such low “social value” that it does not merit the protection of the first amendment, and which, therefore, may be appropriately prohibited by a statute.  Pornography does not have any inherent legal meaning, at least for 1st amendment purposes.  (there may be some state laws that use the word pornography, so it could be legally relevant, but whether something is pornography or not would not resolve whether it is constitutionally protected.). But the concepts have a lot of overlap, as most. Kurt discussions of obscenity are of sexually explicit materials that would typically be described as pornographic as well.

The “I know it when I see it” comment is even more transparently bankrupt if it is applied to obscenity than to pornography.  To be sure, pornography is not necessarily as easy to define, spot, or agree upon as one might think.  But the term does lend itself to SOME easy applications.  Obscenity is an even more subjective concept with even more room for wildly varying judgments.

The word “word” lends itself to a similar sort of false familiarity as pornography.  It’s tempting to say you know it when you see it, but you really don’t, and the more you analyze it, the more you realize how hard it is to really pin it down.

It seems to me (as I brace myself for a side swipe, which would likely be deserved) that there is a modern nuance to the current concept of word, but that the idea that there are such things as words is not very new.  You can’t write or speak without having some notion of what a word is, but you can do so, and do it quite well, without thinking very deeply about what a word is. Which begs the question, is the current concept of what a word is so different from prior senses of that idea that the current conceptualization is a new idea, or is this just a modern twist on an old idea?  What constitutes an idea is surely as tricky to say as what constitutes a word.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 January 2012 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  359
Joined  2012-01-10

That should be court discussions, not Kurt discussions (and certainly not “....as most. Kurt discussions...").  The joys of auto correct.  I am perfectly capable of making a fool of myself without the help of “smart software”.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 January 2012 10:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2032
Joined  2007-02-19

Which begs the question, is the current concept of what a word is so different from prior senses of that idea that the current conceptualization is a new idea, or is this just a modern twist on an old idea?

From Wikipedia:

Many English speakers use “begs the question” to mean “raises the question”, and follow that phrase with the question that is raised;[11] for example, “this year’s deficit is half a trillion dollars, which begs the question: how are we ever going to balance the budget?” Many philosophers and grammarians deem such usage incorrect.[12][13] Academic linguist Mark Liberman recommends avoiding the phrase entirely. [14]

Wikipedia discusses “begging the question” in some detail, and with clarity. The article’s well worth a read. I think we may have discussed the phrase previously on this forum.

Svinyard 118: you seem to have popped up very recently on wordorigins. org. If no one has welcomed you and your contributions so far, let me do so now. Please note: the above quotation from Wikipedia is in no way intended as a put-down or as a condescension, simply as a sharing of information, which is one of the things this great forum’s about.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 12:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1373
Joined  2007-01-29

It seems to me (as I brace myself for a side swipe, which would likely be deserved) that there is a modern nuance to the current concept of word, but that the idea that there are such things as words is not very new.  You can’t write or speak without having some notion of what a word is, but you can do so, and do it quite well, without thinking very deeply about what a word is. Which begs the question, is the current concept of what a word is so different from prior senses of that idea that the current conceptualization is a new idea, or is this just a modern twist on an old idea?  What constitutes an idea is surely as tricky to say as what constitutes a word.

No side swipe here, svinyard.  Why on earth everyone has taken up the cudgel about a non-definitive*, common sense usage, really beats me. 

Hands up those who didn’t understand what I said then, or what I’m saying now.  Pedantry has a place if it’s cutting out obfuscation, illogicality and inaccuracy but this is really silly.

*Please give me a bit of credit here.  How on earth can anyone think that a contributor of ten years to this site would be crass enough to even think that this was a definition of “word”?  How ridiculous can pedantry get?  And if it is getting that silly ...

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 01:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  359
Joined  2012-01-10

Lionello, thanks for the welcome.  I did not find the comment about begs the question condescending. 

I had a flicker of hesitation before using “begs the question”, as I remembered reading somewhere on this very website that the phrase is typically misused and that the way I often use it is a misuse.  But I had been drafting, revising, and re-revising that particular post for some time, and decided to let begs the question stay in the final draft.  I should have known better than to try to squeak that particular phrase past this particular audience.

On top of everything else, the phrase was a bad fit for what I was trying to do, which was 1) to try to find a middle ground between the contention that “word” is a new concept and the contention that it isn’t, and 2) to draw a parallel between the question of “what is a [separate] word” and the question “what is a [new] idea”.  Just as words can have fuzzy borders, so too can ideas.  “Begs the question” was used to segue between those two themes, but it was an awkward segue, and it didn’t really help me convey what I was trying to convey, even leaving aside the fact that it was a use inconsistent with the Classical underpinning of the phrase.

I tend to agree with the comment in Wikipedia that it is perhaps best to just avoid the phrase.  If you use it in the Classical sense most people will have no idea of what you are talking about (unless you are addressing a specific audience that is familiar with the Classical usage, in which case the usage had better be Classically right), while using it to mean “raises the question” is both Classically wrong and a somewhat tired rhetorical device.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 02:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  234
Joined  2008-07-19
Dave Wilton - 06 January 2012 04:32 PM

I’m pretty sure the Romans and ancient Greeks understood the concept of the lexical word, even if they didn’t use spaces between words when writing.

A couple of bits of evidence pointing that way are the use of inter-word dots on many Roman inscriptions (Trajan’s Column is a good example), and the customary abbreviation of Senatus Populusque Romanus as SPQR, which at least suggests recognition of the semantic units in the phrase (including the -que affix).

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 05:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3136
Joined  2007-02-26

Did the Romans have anything akin to a dictionary?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 06:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4790
Joined  2007-01-03

There are bilingual Greek-Latin lexicons dating to the first century C. E. There are older bilingual glossaries in Greek and in Eastern cultures.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 06:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3525
Joined  2007-01-29

The word “word” lends itself to a similar sort of false familiarity as pornography.  It’s tempting to say you know it when you see it, but you really don’t, and the more you analyze it, the more you realize how hard it is to really pin it down.

It seems to me (as I brace myself for a side swipe, which would likely be deserved) that there is a modern nuance to the current concept of word, but that the idea that there are such things as words is not very new.  You can’t write or speak without having some notion of what a word is, but you can do so, and do it quite well, without thinking very deeply about what a word is. Which begs the question, is the current concept of what a word is so different from prior senses of that idea that the current conceptualization is a new idea, or is this just a modern twist on an old idea?

An excellent summary, and I join in welcoming you to the board.  Your dedication to thinking things out is admirable.

Wikipedia discusses “begging the question” in some detail, and with clarity. The article’s well worth a read.

Well, with the proviso that it’s entirely about the (vanishingly rare, if we look at the entire universe of discourse) strict philosophical use of the phrase, with a pointless and overgeneral swipe at “modern usage” at the end ("Many philosophers and grammarians deem such usage incorrect").  That last section should be deleted or rewritten by someone who doesn’t have a crotchety animus against the way the vast majority of English-speakers use the phrase.  (By the way, when quoting a Wikipedia article it’s a good idea to link to it.)

I agree, reluctantly, that it’s a good idea to avoid the phrase, simply in order to avoid being nibbled to death by crotchets; I wrote about it briefly here.

Hands up those who didn’t understand what I said then, or what I’m saying now.  Pedantry has a place if it’s cutting out obfuscation, illogicality and inaccuracy but this is really silly.

Of course everyone understood what you said.  I do not think there is anything silly about pointing out that it does not help in dealing with your initial question, which was about my remark that “The concept word is a relatively modern one, and surprisingly hard to define.” And I would think you would avoid using terms like “pedantry” and “useless” when addressing a fellow contributor you’ve been on good terms with for a decade.  Sheesh.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 07:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  710
Joined  2007-02-07

It’s tempting to say you know it when you see it, but you really don’t,

I submit that my recognition of words is perfect. In that sense, I definitely know one when I see one. The fact that my understanding doesn’t easily lend itself to the reductionism of the “definition” template isn’t a failure of my understanding, it’s a failure of the template to match how the real world works. Understanding comes first and definitions follow. The failure of the definition isn’t a failure of the understanding.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2032
Joined  2007-02-19

Bravo, Happydog.

The foregoing discussion of what a “word” is, brings back something I read many years ago (I wish I could remember the source), about an attempt by some British Ministry or other to define as precisely as possible “a pork sausage” (the question arose, if I remember correctly, in connection with pan-European food regulations). The upshot of some lengthy and quite agonized argument was (more or less—I forget the exact wording): “a pork sausage is anything that can be reasonably called a pork sausage”.

;-)

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4790
Joined  2007-01-03

It’s also worth noting that regulatory and technical definitions often have no validity beyond the specific context in which they are written. How a government body defines “pork sausage” has no bearing on how most people use the term.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  359
Joined  2012-01-10

My shorthand statement that you don’t really know a word when you see it was imprecise.  A more accurate statement would be that I may know a word when I see it, and you may know a word when you see it, but my “I know it when I see it” probably doesn’t coincide perfectly with yours.  This highlights the danger of attempting to shelf a complicated idea by saying something along the lines of, well, pedantry aside, we all know it when we see it.  So a better shorthand would have been, WE may think WE “know it when we see it”, but WE don’t, because WE implies that a perfectly mutual, and instinctive, understanding exists, when “we” probably have slightly different views about it.  To use an example from another post, I think of “forever” as a distinct word with a slightly different meaning (or at least a different connotation) than the phrase “for ever”.  Others probably see forever as a blunder which is not really a word at all, while still others probably acknowledge it as acceptable usage (at least for ill-educated Americans), but would scoff at the idea that forever has a different meaning and/or use than for ever.  So while we all have a broadly similar vocabulary, and would often agree about what is a word and what isn’t, there are cracks in our collective understanding.  When a high degree of precision in communication is needed, as in academic scholarship, these cracks can be a big problem if not corrected or at least identified.  In less rarified discussions, these subtle differences on understanding are probably meaningless, but in other contexts they matter.

I would also note, as was mentioned by others in prior posts, that recognizing words and “knowing” what constitutes a word are not necessarily the same thing.  So perfect recognition and perfect knowledge are not interchangeable.  And I would quibble with the “perfect” part of the statement.  You undoubtedly have a highly accurate rate of recognizing words, but not a “perfect” one, as there are probably some collections of symbols that are words but which you would not recognize as such.  You might counter that you always know if something you see or hear is a word, even if you don’t know what it means, but I don’t think that is strictly true.  If you see a collection of symbols and have no idea what it means, the collection of symbols might be an actual word, or it might be a typo or blunder, and it is, by definition, impossible to know for certain if it is really a word or not.  And certainly my recognition of words is by no means perfect.

I also don’t think this is a matter of the “template” imperfectly matching the way the “real” world works.  Nor is the template as separate from the “real world” as that way of posing the issue implies.  We attempt to understand how our world “really works” by r
creating models for it and testing the model.  As flaws in the mod are found, the model of the world is changed, and our understanding of how the “real” world works changes accordingly.  This is true even of seemingly objective scientific inquiries, and is at least as true of things like language, which are arguably even more inherently subjective.

I am guessing, happydog, that you were at least half-joking, but I think the comments, even if meant half kiddingly, key up a thoughtful response, so that is what I tried to do here.

[ Edited: 13 January 2012 10:48 AM by Svinyard118 ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 January 2012 10:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3525
Joined  2007-01-29

I submit that my recognition of words is perfect. In that sense, I definitely know one when I see one. The fact that my understanding doesn’t easily lend itself to the reductionism of the “definition” template isn’t a failure of my understanding, it’s a failure of the template to match how the real world works. Understanding comes first and definitions follow. The failure of the definition isn’t a failure of the understanding.

My understanding is definitely failing, because I have no idea what this means.  But hopefully, as Svinyard118 suggests, it’s mostly a joke.

Profile
 
 
   
2 of 3
2