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Common Sense and Words

Regarding language there are at least a few of us who believe that words come after we visualize or imagine connections. Those of us who grew up barely literate and had to struggle for the right word have a greater sense of this than some others.

Words are tools that we use to express ideas. Because words are abstractions they can mean different things to different people.

We have a problem with words as soon as we go beyond immediate and local specifics. If I say "you" or "me," there is no room for confusion. The word "hurt," on the other hand, is an abstraction, and clarification might be in order.

Our points of view are built on abstractions, some of them with shaky connections that would fall apart if the abstractions were improved. Some abstractions are not well understood by the user. The words "socialist" and "socialism" are examples. Some use the word "socialist" to describe believers in a capitalist welfare state. They are entitled to their own definition, but it is at odds with usage by some who use the word "socialist" derived from a 19th and early 20th century historical context.

Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck. He has "gut" certainties.

Communication being a purpose of language, good communication might require definition. Definition is the breakdown of an abstraction into more specific components. A problem arises if a person ignores the shaky nature of ideas trying to be expressed. Glenn Beck of Fox News, for example, has expressed certainty about a coming world catastrophe connected to the recent rising against the rule of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Whether Beck's fears are justified by realities outside his head is not relevant here. What is relevant is his certainty coming from what he says is his "gut" – ignoring that this "gut" certainty is built upon a variety of abstractions.

The use of metaphors can also create confusion, to be discussed later under the title of Linguistic Wars. An example of a metaphor is the word "shaky," in the previous paragraph, which does not communicate as well as I'd like it to – but I'll leave it.

Glenn Beck speaks metaphorically when he describes the finance giant George Soros as a puppet master. Beck is referring to Soros pulling the strings of leftist Hollywood actors. But those trying to communicate clearly – a political scientist perhaps – might try using their head rather their gut and would describe the relationship between Soros and the actors with specifics that would create more clarity.


Glenn Beck Puppet master part 1 George Soros, You Tube, 2010

Copyright © 2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.