John Locke can talk for a long, long time and use many words to discuss how words inherently have no meaning, and they are extremely unreliable. You now, he has a point. I feel like I must not be alone in saying that I’ve wondered how certain words get associated with certain things so definitively throughout the entire geography of a language. It really is an amazing thing, but I had never quite realized what a fickle thing it is at the same time.
The word “hatch,” for example. What does that word mean? In my own life and experience, I would describe a hatch as a large door with an air lock. John Locke might say it is a bunker buried in the ground. The word to him becomes associated with much more than what my understanding of it is.
Not even to mention the idea of naming colors, and how arbitrary that is to the blind. Locke says himself that he would rather not go into it, but just this weekend, I had an experience in a store where I heard a blind girl describing to her friend a shirt she owns. I heard her talking about “a yellow one.” What significance does that have to her? Why does she know that one of the shirts she owns is yellow, and why would that matter to her? Does she know which one of her shirts is yellow? Does she know she looks good in yellow? These questions go beyond the authority of language on its own, and I’m starting to understand why Locke decided not to go into it. Good call, friend.
Anyway, what I like about this article is that instead of talking about how language can be used properly or how the power of language is lost on people, Locke is telling us that language is barely anything. It only means what we want it to mean, and so there will always be misunderstandings between people. This concept is fascinating to me, and there’s always more to think about.