September 24, 2012

The significance of Words

Words do not serve well when trying to be understood. For the listener can find significance in a word differently than the speaker, creating imperfect communication. If you are confused about how this works all you have to do is look back at the first part of Locke’s essay where he is talking about words as recording. Our ability to take a single word and give it significance so that we remember an something else or an entire idea/theory shows how, depending on the way in which one thinks, they may attach a completely different idea to a word than another person would while in discourse. Most of the time we are able to understand one another when we use a certain word, commercials depend on certain phrases or words to communicate for them, and because we see/hear these ideas so much we are able to recognize the significance of that word in a particular context and can even purposefully take it out of that context. Yet at other times this becomes more difficult. Locke calls these more difficult words imperfect for many reasons, one of them being the complexity of the word.

Think for example the word agency, since beginning this class the meaning of this word has changed almost daily for our entire class, thus when speaking of agency we cannot all have the same ideas in our head and therefore may interpret each other slightly different during discourse. Other parts of Locke’s essay that explain the imperfection of words has, in summation, much to do with invention. The nature of a word changes by invention, every period may make up new words or use an existing word in a new way, creating many different ideas tied to this one word and confusing discourse even more. Lastly I want to mention how in learning these words we are affected, for the way in which we learn a word will have much to do with how we think of it. For example, if you learn a word from reading many books and coming across it in them, your definition of the word may be less solid than a person who learned it in class, thus the way in which we tie significance to it will not be the same, in fact if you learned the word through reading or discourse rather than by learning the definition you are more likely to tie some emotion or event to it that the other person is not likely to be able to share. Of course these imperfections do not make discourse impossible, but I like to look at them because they are something to consider when speaking or writing, how will my audience interpret this? How can I make sure they understand my meaning sufficiently along with theirs? Perhaps as we continue this new study of anti/significance we can answer these questions more easily… or not.

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