Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Watch Your Language

Quoth Aristotle:

We must also define the errors that occur in problems. They are of two kinds, caused either by false statement or by transgression of the established diction. For those who make false statements, and say that an attribute belongs to thing which does not belong to it, commit error; and those who call objects by the names of other objects (e.g. calling a planetree a ‘man’) transgress the established terminology.

[Topics, II, 1]

If we use words in non-standard ways, we inject into any conversation the likelihood of confusion and misunderstanding. The charitable man will recognize this, and will avoid doing it for the sake of his listeners. We ought to be careful to use words correctly—that is, in the established way that they are ordinarily used. If we care about clarity, and if we care about not putting stumbling blocks in the way of our audience's comprehension, we really have no alternative.

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