Words are Slippery and Thought is Viscous

No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
Henry Brooks Adams

Found in Quotes About Words

You may think that the slipperiness of words would be seen as a shortcoming by those who make their living from the use of language. But to the contrary, it is the very slippery nature of words which allows for so many to earn so much by saying so little so much of the time.

I became caught up in the slippery nature of language when exposed to the writings of Douglas Hofstadter. Hofstadter is a mathematician / computer scientist / cognitive scientist / philosopher who emerged into the real world of work with great hopes for solving the riddle of human consciousness. But he was forced to lower his goals by the magnitude of the problem. Hofstadter’s published works are entertaining and edifying, but they barely chip away at the foundations of the puzzle of human consciousness.

Whoever controls the flow of words — slippery though they may be — is at a distinct advantage in terms of power in society. For example, you are likely to read every memo sent to you by the Vice President in charge of your division, but how many of your memos to the Vice President do you think are read by himself?

Once upon a time in the US, newspapermen were kings, because citizens actually read what they printed, and even believed a good portion. At this time, the kings are those who control what meets the eyes of information consumers.

Over a good part of the 20th century, and into the 21st, activist and academic leftists have carried out a concerted campaign to change the common meanings of many words — and to make the use of other words and ideas beyond the pale. Persons can lose their jobs, fail to be hired, or even be physically assaulted, if they violate these new meanings. This is power of a subtle sort, but real. (see writings of Christina Hoff Sommers on the Modern Language Association, for example)

This is one reason why it is so important to include readings from pre-20th century writers when educating a child to think for himself. The simple (and not so simple) etymological origins of words should be derived, recovered, and explained as part of language learning. Doing so will free the mind to make a multitude of subconscious and conscious associations which will prove useful for future learning.

Dangerous Children are dangerous on many levels. They are most dangerous for having learned to think for themselves. By acquiring the ability to shunt aside the barage of contradictory and ultimately meaningless words coming from the PC drones of academia, media, government, and elsewhere in society, they give themselves more room to think and make plans to achieve personal and group goals.

Words are necessarily slippery because they are built on a house of metaphorical cards — some pre-verbal and others verbal. Thought is necessarily viscous, because it is built upon a complex and shifting mountain of conflicting meanings, of which slippery words are but a part.

Note: Yesterday’s post on the low IQ of Africans was meant to be a much more general essay on the proclivity of modern humans to talk endlessly about things which they have no intention of dealing with. But the compounding slipperiness and viscosity of the effort defeated me, and I was forced to reprint a past article, slightly modified. Unfortunately, many of the articles linked to in the post were full and free access at the time, but have since been shoved behind a paywall. Yet another obstacle to the expansion of knowledge and meaning — changes that occur out of sight, due to time passing.

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