What is a word?
I guess one answers this question in purely a subjective eye, focusing on what they have known. To writers, words are tools of art, words are brushes – to politicians, words are promises, opinions, wars alone.
We all handle those words with our opinion, such as using them as we have been taught to use them. Only when opposition has the point of question do we double-think what we have known, though that is the same for most knowledge. And, when we only know a little, it is true that there is so much more that can be grown in our minds.
It is such writing; as a Classics scholar, I have, over the last two years specifically, come to see that word-choice and place are one of the most important factors. Yes, if one looks between the Latin style of writing and the English, there are so many differences, even on this same topic of thought. One word can mean several, or carry a different meaning from its misnomer. The Inuit have many words for snow, all referring to a different type. I guess one could mention the types of cloud formation, though, of course, that harks back to their Latin titles, rather than English states.
And words can be tricky. They have to be exactly right if we are to press them into our works. But what do we know of them? They’re not…so solid as one observer might think.
What’s in a word? As famously said (and oft misquoted) “What’s in a name? A Rose by any other word would smell as sweet”. Mr. S has a fantastic point here. Words are so arbitrary! Only because of what we have got-to-know and their roots do we call them as we do. If I had grown up with the wrong idea that a pink flower like so was called ‘Daffodil’, it would still have the same scent, regardless of my misunderstanding. This is the Coherence Theory of language. A statement only achieves meaning through its relationship with other ideas.
One of the things I have enjoyed about the Religious Language topic of my Philosophy A Level is that I can relate its theories to the way I view and use my own language, both in literature itself and also within the microcosm of applying religious language. L. Wittgenstein said that language is a ‘game’, like Cricket, that only people who know the rules can understand. In my textbook, there is a cracking example along the lines of “if someone pointed to a table and said ‘cabbage’, you would be quick to correct them”.
But what if a table really was called a cabbage? One Psychological experiment I hope to do in the future is to try and ‘reinvent’ someone’s knowledge of language – so that their ‘cabbage’ really will be the place we sit to eat a Sunday dinner.
I’m an anti-realist when it comes to words. Bear with me.
I guess I like to bend the meanings of words. Don’t misunderstand: I like to use English properly, but, with Latin roots, I often find myself veering into the more theoretical aspect of language. What makes it what it is? Apart from the philosophers who made their living in theory and teaching, I doubt there are m/any people who take the time to apply these theories to their everyday use of words.
But some words don’t exist that should. I think everybody (or every writer, at least) has once conjured a word to follow a linguistic pattern, but has found it doesn’t exist. In the same way, Coherence Theory means that everything that exists may have a word assigned to it, even if that word is not the ‘correct’ one. (I make the assumption that Coherence Theory has no correct words, as each concept exists without a name.) Following that and the parenthesised sentence, even non-corporal objects have a coherence. Surely?
We know ‘thoughts’, even when those thoughts are almost self-generating; Coherence Theory implies they must exist – at least, if we follow a consciousness-perceives-existence route – and the thoughts themselves are the consciousness perceiving their own existence.
But our world of words, our mystic use of them and the linguistic and syntactical sides is still subjective. I believe that to write is to craft the tools the way we wish them to be crafted. As words are often equivocal, wordplay works – and Coherence Theory works. Call those objects whatever you see them as, whatever the history of the land in which you write. For instance, in this world here, we have a camera; in my Continent, it is a light-graph, a play on the Greek etymology. Nevertheless, the light-graph still works as a camera, although no one in my head would understand that term.
A word is whatever you make of it, whether it relies on objective solid-bases or not.
By The Way…
This post marks my 200th – not according to WordPress, but after last week’s titles debacle, I’m inclined not to trust what WordPress says…
My word of the week is ‘inherent’. I used it three times in my Monday exam (and it wasn’t once per essay!). Meaning ‘existing essentially/characteristically in something’, the word comes from the Latin participle of the verb ‘haero’, to stick, with a typical ‘in-’ prefix. It is, however, not quite the same as ‘fundamental’.