Search IconIcon to open search


Last updated Dec 1, 2021 Edit Source

# Orwell on Language

Source: Orwell on Politics and the English Language

“In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it.”

# A tangent on language

language as an abstraction for concepts

need to communicate and refer to objects that are not spatially/temporally local

abstraction involves compression -> detail is lost the way we make up for that detail is through having a shared consensus over meaning and intent

this meaning and intent is baked into the meaning of the word through how the word is used ‘In most cases, the meaning of a word is its use’, Wittgenstein claimed, in perhaps the most famous passage in the Investigations. It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it, and the context in which you say it. Words are how you use them.

yet usage changes over time no one person or institution decides how language works: it is one of the few logically decentralized aspects of humanity

old meanings may no longer make sense. new groups try to co-opt old terminology. we accrue a plurality of definitions

when do we need new words?

# Terminological anchoring

natural meaning ‘drift’

# Definition overloading

do we need new words? e.g. hacker, metaverse

at nwplus, we have a slide on all our promo materials that explains that hackers don’t actually ‘hack devices’ at hackathons

# Right to be forgotten

hard for things ingrained within society meaning is not dictated by some central organization it needs to be collectively forgotten, and/or overwritten

either hard-fork it within a subcommunity or create an entirely new word

Terminological Feedback Loops

  1. Practice creates new terminology as a way to communicate complex ideas without needing to rexplain each time
  2. Terminology then shapes how we think about the world: Sapir-Whorf
  3. Some terminology becomes outdated as practice changes
  4. Arguments ensue over updating shared terminology (esp as language is decentralized, this can cause fracturing)
  5. Two camps emerge
    1. People who want to use terminology mainly as a means to more efficiently communicate practice
    2. People who like the theory behind terminology or those who are attached to tradition
  6. Camps argue over who has the ‘right’ definitions but for their own goals
    1. Camp 1 repeats this loop
    2. Camp 2 continues to argue over definitions