Incomplete Intelligibility

‘In the language which is spoken when one expresses oneself, there lies an average intelligibility; and in accordance with this intelligibility the discourse which is communicated can be understood to a considerable extent, even if the hearer does not bring himself into such a kind of Being towards what the discourse is about as to have a primordial understanding of it. We do not so much understand the entities which are talked about; we already are listening only to what is said-in-the-talk as such. What is said-in-the-talk gets understood; but what the talk is about is understood only approximately and superficially. We have the same thing in view, because it is in the same averageness that we have a common understanding of what is said.’

Being and Time by Martin Heidegger, tr. John Macquerrie and Edward Robinson, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1962, I.5, §35 (H.167), p. 212

Verbal Satiation

Verbal satiation is another term for semantic satiation; it occurs when someone says or reads a word so frequently in a short timespan that it loses its meaning.

Steve: Tartlets… Tartlets… Tartlets… The word has lost all meaning.
– Friends (1995) Season 1, Episode 15; “The One with the Stoned Guy” [No. 15]

Amphiboly and Amphibology

Amphiboly or Amphibology is a form of syntactic ambiguity. That is to say, it describes a linguistic situation in which a sentence may be interpreted in more than one way due to an ambiguous sentence structure.

“John saw the man on the mountain with a telescope.”
“Flying planes can be dangerous.”

The duke yet lives that Henry shall depose.Henry VI (1.4.30), by William Shakespeare

Owing to the alteration of the natural order of words for metrical reasons, it is not uncommon to find amphiboly in poetic literature. This sentence could either be taken to mean that Henry will depose the duke, or that the duke will depose Henry.

“Thief gets nine months in violin case.”
“Prostitutes appeal to pope.”

I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.Lola by Ray Davies

This sentence could mean “Lola and I are both glad I’m a man”, or “I’m glad Lola and I are both men”, or even “I’m glad I’m a man, and Lola is also glad to be a man”. Ray Davies deliberately wrote this ambiguity into the song Lola, referring to a cross-dresser.

“British left waffles on Falkland Islands.”
“Juvenile court will try shooting accused.”

Ibis redibis nunquam per bella peribis. — often attributed to the Oracle at Dodona

This Latin phrase could mean “you will go, you will return, never in war will you perish”; however, the other possibility is the exact opposite in meaning “you will go, you will never return, in (the) war you will perish”.

“Red tape holds up new bridge.”
“Sex education delayed, teachers request training.”

Choose Your English (iii)

assure / ensure / insure
Although these three often show up at the same party, mostly while giving hugs, they are by no means the same: to assure is to tell someone everything is in order, to ensure is to make certain, and to insure is to protect financially.

bare / bear
Bare means naked, but to bear is to carry something. The noun bear is also a brown furry mammal of the Ursidae family.

capital / capitol
A capital is either a stash of money or the government headquarters of a state. A capitol on the other hand is simply a building.

climactic / climatic
Climactic describes the high point, the most intense part of a film, play, song, et cetera. Climatic refers to the climate, like the current climatic changes we can observe at the North Pole for instance.

complement / compliment
Both are very welcome on a first date — a complement means to complete something, but a compliment is flattering. If you feel you and your new friend complement each other, maybe it’s because he or she has been giving you so many compliments, like for instance when he or she says you look like Roger Waters or Anna Chlumsky.

See other: Choose Your English

Choose Your English (ii)

ambiguous / ambivalent 
Something ambiguous is unclear or vague, like the end of a short story that leaves you scratching your head; but if you are ambivalent about something, you can take it or leave it.

amicable / amiable
Amicable refers to a friendliness or goodwill between people or groups. Amiable refers to one person’s friendly disposition. A group might have an amicable meeting, because the people there are amiable.

amuse / bemuse
People often use the word bemuse when they mean amuse, but to amuse is to entertain, and to bemuse is to confuse. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the White Rabbit amuses Alice as he frolics, but then the Cheshire Cat bemuses her when he tells her to go two directions at once.

appraise / apprise
To appraise is to estimate the value of something, but remove the second “a,” and you have apprise, which means “to tell.” If you hire someone to appraise your house, you might have to apprise your family of the fact that you now owe the bank more than your house is worth.

assume / presume 
Assume and presume both mean to believe something before it happens, but when you assume you are not really sure. If someone bangs on your door in the middle of the night, you might assume it’s your mad neighbour. If your neighbour knocks on your door every night at 6:30, at 6:29 you can presume he or she is coming over in a minute.

See other: Choose Your English

Choose Your English

adverse / averse 
Adverse and averse are both turn-offs, but adverse is something harmful, and averse is a strong feeling of dislike. Rainstorms can cause adverse conditions, and many people are averse to rain.

affect / effect
Choosing between affect and effect can be scary. Think of Edgar Allen Poe and his RAVEN: Remember Affect Verb Effect Noun. You cannot affect the creepy poem by reading it, but you can enjoy the effect of a talking bird.

afflict / inflict
Both afflict and inflict cause pain, but afflict means to cause suffering or unhappiness, something a disease does, but inflict means to force pain or suffering, like if you smack someone upside the head.

allude / elude
Allude is coy, to allude is to refer to something in an indirect manner. But to elude is to hide something; it means to evade. Because the accent is on the second syllable in both words, it’s easy to get them mixed up.

allusion / illusion
Novelists, magicians, and other tricksters keep these words busy. Novelists love an allusion, an indirect reference to something like a secret treasure for the reader to find; magicians heart illusions, or fanciful fake-outs; but tricksters suffer from delusions, ideas that have no basis in reality.

See other: Choose Your English

Fun Semantics

‘The words Fire Department make it sounds like they’re the ones who are starting the fires, doesn’t it? It should be called the “Extinguishing Department.” We don’t call the police the “Crime Department.” Also, the “Bomb Squad” sounds like a terrorist gang. The same is true of wrinkle cream. Doesn’t it sound like it causes wrinkles? And why would a doctor prescribe pain pills? I already have pain! I need relief pills!

Carlin (1997)’

– Yule, G. 1985. The Study of Language Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press (2010) p. 112

On Truth

Excerpted from the essay Truth by Peter Unger of New York University:

‘If what I say is not in complete agreement with what you say, at least some of what I say will not be in agreement with what you say. And, so, what I say will not be in agreement with what you say. Also, of course, if what I say is not completely consistent with what you say, then at least some of what I say will not be consistent with what you say. And, so, what I say will not be consistent with what you say.’

– Munitz. M.K., Unger. P.K. 1974. Semantics & Philosophy New York, United States: New York University Press (1974) p. 269-270

See other: Admin’s Choice Posts