Language

Usually, my school days are not very interesting and hence do not warrant a post dedicated to it. But sometimes, I engage in interesting conversations and feel the need to provide an additional extension hosted on this blog. This is one of them.

Someone else: “You’re an idiot!” (paraphrased)

Since he’s a person who I usually consider a friend, I take this comment mostly in jest. However, to the uninformed observer, this could be construed as an insult, so I still feel the need to defend my honor using linguistic dexterity. I first inquire upon the definition of “idiot”, and apparently it has been transmuted to be equivalent to me; I am the only idiot in the universe. I suppose it is not very insulting in this definition, but as you probably know “idiot” doesn’t have the greatest connotations out there. We argue over the semantics of the word “match” [I contend that you can only match two different things; he says you can match something with itself, synonymous to an equals sign.] Although, to tell of the truth, the reflexive property is a rather trivial case which nearly all human beings would recognize as true. In fact, I’m not very certain when an object A does not equal to object A. It’s one of those things that really can’t be broken how much you try. In the end, we settle on the agreement that the word “match” means something which you can create a fire out of it.

Also, the word “object” is apparently a grave insult to call someone. I’m being objective here; as a noun you are entitled to the label “object”. Would you want me to call you “entity” instead? He jokingly says that he’ll put me into the bully box. And if I call the bully box an “object” the bully box will put me into the bully box. That’s very amusing sir.

However, back to the definition of “idiot”. Sure, you could redefine the word “idiot” to equal to me, but what is the use? In my opinion, language is supposed to be a means of efficient and relatively unambiguous communication. For example, you could make hand gestures, but unless you establish some sort of language (which you can, e.g. American Sign Language) it lacks clarity, and miscommunication will occur. (Did you mean “Good Job” or “You Suck”?) With that in mind, a redefinition is unwieldy and causes miscommunication, as the word “idiot” clearly must encompass a set larger than just {“me”} (or perhaps it doesn’t contain me at all, a possibility that I will not discount.) As I’m trying to view this in a somewhat utilitarian viewpoint, this is bad.* On the other hand, if you really wanted to redefine something, you would have to gather some degree of popular support, which is required to communicate with others.

*I have this assumption (reasonable imo) that being useful to society is good, and may post something about this later.

Take the word apple. This word is commonly used to refer to the pomaceous fruit that is edible. (No, I did not use Wikipedia to get “pomaceous”, although in retrospect that word actually was on the first line of the Wikipedia page on the apple fruit.) It could also be used to refer to that company [more on this company’s practices later], and it is somewhat commonly accepted that if one uses Apple in this context they will know what you are talking about (instead of Apple Incorporated or something official like that). On the other hand, they would probably assume the same company if you were actually talking about the Apple Automobile Company, which apparently closed in 1917. If you used “Apple” as a place location, people would probably mentally prefix this with “Big” and assume you’re talking about New York City, when you really meant to mean the unincorporated town in Oklahoma. Of course, maybe you’re in a convention specializing in bankrupted automobile companies or unincorporated towns, but in normal conversation you could not make this “redefinition”, and even so you need at least the support of the person you’re conversing with.

There is a story of a redefinition, and I will tell about it. So one day long ago, in the math community, a group of people at MathCamp decided to create a new language that would utilize only comestibles as its lexicon. This language is called Foodtongue. Seeing as apples are things people normally eat, it was part of the language. Over time, the language gained credence in the MathCamp and partially the MOP community. [I think “apple” means “I” in this language, but I’m not entirely certain.] At any rate, since the word apple has a common definition, agreed upon by its conversants, it is a useful word in that context.

This does not occur with the “idiot” definition, as I myself (nor does the general public) do not accept such a definition. [I’m fine with the designation that I am an idiot, but the designation that I am the only idiot is a troubling definition indeed.] Apparently, it is used as for that person’s personal pleasure, but when such a statement could potentially be misconstrued for a very different statement, misinterpretation happens and things do not all go well.

 

Sidenote: So apparently I’ve promised to write something on utilitarianism and capitalism. Very well then.

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    • herp derp
    • March 9th, 2012

    does the person who said “You’re an idiot!”” have initials (first last) JW and is in your pe period?

      • totalepicfailure
      • March 9th, 2012

      Whether your statement is true or not is easily validated.

        • herp derp
        • March 9th, 2012

        @totalepicfailure: the author has confirmed that it is true

        plz note (lewis) the name on the email address used is not the real person

  1. whoo!

  2. If the pragmatic function of “You’re an idiot” was not to insult but to make a joke, prosody (and to a lesser extent, context) should have disambiguated, so a competent passerby should have been able to understand the intention. Because of this, the post that followed seemed somewhat superfluous.

    Anyhow, you’ve pointed out that there are multiple morphemes with the shape (or ) that have distinct meanings, but I don’t see how this involves any sort of “redefinition*.” It’s difficult to see any parallel between labeling you a member of the set of idiots and using homophones, although if for some reason we consider the meanings as members of the set identified using a morpheme with a certain shape, it becomes less unclear. Regardless, having another speaker add you to the class labeled “idiot” is hardly a redefinition. If I say “The gworp is a newly discovered fruit,” no redefinition of fruit takes place. The new item gworp possesses qualities characteristic of fruits, but that set’s characteristics have not changed. If a tree falls in the forest…?

    If you’re looking for something that really is a redefinition, consider pronouns.

    [Blubbering tangent: If that language was anything more than a relexification of English, I’d be proud of them. But that still does not constitute a redefinition any more than bra must be redefined for use in Swedish to mean good as opposed to a type of female undergarment]

      • totalepicfailure
      • March 23rd, 2012

      Point taken, but I don’t think most people are competent passerbys by your standards.

  3. *The asterisk in the previous comment linked to something that I decided not to post. This filler message has been provided as a substitute.

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