Why it matters to know what you mean by words (quick example)

People might wonder about why people like me worry about what a particular word or phrase means in a particular context. Here’s a quick example (that I removed from another article about something else) about how it matters.

You don’t even know what you’re saying unless you know what you mean by it. Even otherwise logical inferences can be affected by vague terms that mean more than one thing at the same time. Suppose someone thinks genre fiction is something that is formulaic and repeats the same old stuff, but also identifies any novel as genre fiction if it just has things like dragons or detectives. Then the person will end up assuming any book with dragons or detectives is formulaic and repeats the same old stuff, even though this is hardly a truth about the world, and even if it was, it would be incredible if someone didn’t soon break the conventions and, say, write about a different kind of detective in a different kind of plot. In this case, two definitions of genre fiction, one involving being formulaic and another just involving involving certain kinds of elements, would get confused to make an effective baseless belief about the world.

This of course has to do with prejudice and stereotypes too. It also appears in politics, and it’s something George Orwell wrote about. But I won’t go into more detail now, I just wanted to note this as a quick aside.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s