Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nonexistant Words are Important

This is kinda a futurism post, because it's just so nice outside!

I am one of those people who believes that language affects thought.

I don't really believe you think in language - I don't, so I don't see how I could believe in it - but I believe that the same circuits that allow you to speak the way you do also allow you to think the way you do. IE, your brain optimizes for your language, and operates that way even when not doing languagy things.

So I like invented words. I like assigning a word to whatever I'm talking about, even if I know it will never be used again, because it gives me a symbolic representation of the whole concept. I can attach to that word, fasten meaning to it, and measure it against the rest of the universe as I know it.

That's one of the reasons I really liked Douglas Adams.

Douglas Adams was very good at concepts which exist, but aren't generally recognized. Both important things and unimportant things and things which appear to be one but are actually the other. A few of his books - such as the Meaning of Liff - are literally just stacks of fake words used to describe things we all know but never notice or think about.

There are a few more communal efforts to do this sort of thing - some good ones that start with "A" are: Adelphia and Arrowsic.

(There isn't a word, as far as I know, for "examples limited to the first bit of data because the 'researcher' writing the report is too jazzed up to read all the way through before posting." I'm taking suggestions. I'd choose "Springfield", but I think it already means "to use a generic example that seems to be one of a strong set of examples, except that not only does it not exist, the strong set of examples also does not exist.")

I think these kinds of exercises are important, because I think culture and society are going to become increasingly splintered and unstable. Right now, cultures and societies are horribly bad at talking about themselves, and even worse about talking about other cultures and societies. I think that needs to change.

I think if every society in the world came up with these kinds of words based on the cities, places, and people around them, we could learn an awful lot about how people think differently... I think, even without any other reason for it to exist, that would be a very good reason to do it.

I would like to do it myself, as a representative of the armchair nerdcore. So here are some examples from New England which may or may not clash with pre-existing Liff-words. As usual, my meanings are based more on the sounds of the city name, not the actual nature of the city.

If you have any personal examples from anywhere, post them!

Framingham: Any arguer who approaches an argument with no intention to even understand the other side's commentary. Implies a lifelong pursuit of this activity.

Taunton: To explain an argument, position, or worldview by confidently misquoting something.

Woonsocket: To do something fun while explaining that it's for the better good, really. IE, defining "woonsocket".

Worcester: Something that has strayed so far from its origins that it has no real similarity to them and no useful purpose in its present form... but it refuses to die.


Daniel Benmergui said...

Thauma: Characteristic of some art piece that, at least for a very brief moment, you feel has grasped a greater meaning. But the art piece as a whole can't be considered "beautiful".

I had to come up with it to tag some so so theatrical plays that I felt had something meaningful and dark about them.

Craig Perko said...

Sure, I can see that. Here's another set from me, although they have nothing to do with art:

Athol: An attempt to suborn or pervert another's concept to your own desires or beliefs. IE, defining these words.

Billerica: A series of attempts (a "dance") to fix a problem by fiat or law, each of which causes problems that need to be fixed...

Daniel Benmergui said...


Athol = the real goal of dialectic.

Billerica would be really practical to me at work...maybe I could implement it, using some kind of 1984-fashioned dictionary of mandatory words.

David said...

Billerica: see also, any government local, state, or federal

Craig Perko said...

Shh! You'll make them feel bad!

Brian Shurtleff said...

The BBC Sitcom Coupling made up some interesting words (or more often phrases) for real but formerly unnamed phenomena.

One great example from it to mention here is "the Giggle Loop", the positive feedback loop that causes one to think of the struggle to keep from laughing when it would be socially inappropriate as itself an exponentially more amusing, laugh-worthy, situation.

Craig Perko said...

That definitely counts!