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You don't Understand Me!

Dead Tree Squares

Are we divided by a common language?


Words Don't Mean Anything

Words Don't Mean Anything

When I am speaking English, and I know that you are an English speaker, do my words mean anything to you?

You extract meaning from them, but is that the same thing?

The thought, which was in my head probably is not passed on to you.

The idea which you generate when you hear me may be the opposite of my intended meaning.

Do Words Reveal Thoughts?

I think I have a good working vocabulary.

I think that I understand some things. I also like to talk about things which I don't know if I understand completely but have thoughts about.

I often want to communicate ideas. Of necessity I generally have to use language (English) to do this.

Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to teach you anything. I don't know if I am right. I just want to throw the idea, like a ball, into play.

But words are not pure, like numbers, with absolute meaning. We know that 3 signifies threeness. The number three, the written or spoken word, or the written symbol all stand for a concept. we agree on the meaning of this concept. Threeness may have different personal connotations for each of us. I could live at an address which is No. 3, That Street. You may have a 3 year old son. We both hold the same concept for three though regardless of our personal connotations.

Does 'blue' work like 'three'? We could both look at a colour swatch. We could both measure a wavelength of light, but we will never be sure about a shared experience of blueness. We both accept that we are each talking about the same concept. We just don't know if we experience this concept in the same way.

As ideas become more abstract so the likely hood of a shared meaning diminishes. We may however be completely unaware of this. We think we are talking about the same thing. We think we agree. We may think we are talking about the same thing but disagree because we do not share the same interpretation of a word. The word does not imply the same construct for each of us.

Concepts and Constructs

We all instinctively know that we are never going to form a consensus when it come to the big abstracts like love and hate. We all have an idea what they mean, but we know that they mean different things for different people and at different times.

With some concepts we know in general what is meant by them. We also know that there may be no generally accepted definition. 'ART' is one of these.

Concepts can be heaped together to form constructs. Several concepts combined, possibly without us thinking about the component concepts that make up a construct. This doesn't imply that a construct is an invention - although it might be.

Think of a word of which we believe we know the meaning, say 'history'. What does it mean? Something which has happened in the past? Something written or taught about the past? We think of the concept of history as something which has definitely happened. The phrase 'history is written by the winners' suggests that 'history' is not necessarily 'true'.

Ambrose Bierce put it well in The Devil's Dictionary

History, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly naves, and soldiers mostly fools.


Do I say what I mean?

Do I always say what I mean? (Even if I mean what I say)

Of course I could be lying. I might not know the correct expression or word for the concept I want to convey. I might be tricked by my unconscious into a Freudian slip. I might not notice it but you probably will - to your amusement and my mortification. Some words are so commonly confused that everyone begins to accept the distorted or 'wrong' meaning (apart from a few pedants) such as 'awful'. Other words are subject to meaning drift over time. This is seen in comparing the meaning of some words in Shakespeare with their modern meaning.

Do I hear what you say?

Even when we each work from the same dictionary definition of a word and think that we have a clear understanding of the concept it implies we may still be unable to 'hear' a pure definition because the word or the concept could be so deeply enmeshed with other ideas and associations for one of us as to distort or even negate the dictionary meaning.

Temper and Temperature

Words have different emotional temperatures or significances. Some words are picked up, sometimes unconsciously when seen for a brief interval or heard over a noisy background. Our own name, words with sexual connotations, words connected with our major interests, words which are in any way taboo all fall into this category. Words which represent key constructs for us are especially potent. These could be negative or positive constructs. These are the words which trigger rage and rows. If I think I am kind and you say 'how could you be so unkind?' I may easily become angry. To children or others in a vulnerable state such conflicts may not generate outward anger but become insidiously damaging. I think I am good/well/clever. You say I am bad/sick/stupid. I do not know what I am. Perhaps I am mad or stupid.

You are an egalitarian. I say something about power and status. You become angry. But I wanted to imply empowerment and stature. You cannot hear me. You think I am back peddling when I try to explain myself.

Pixel Dust

Ensign Carbine

you_don_t_understand_me/start.txt · Last modified: 2011/03/11 22:43 by meta
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