Logical Gal – words must be precise

12 Feb

There’s the fallacy of fake precision and then there is LACK of precision.

You know how much I love distinctions.  I also enjoy the fact that very different concepts can be represented by the same term, thereby causing confusion.

Take the little preposition ‘of’: it’s simple enough. But its power lies in an ability to change the meaning of the word that follows.

I recently understood this in a discussion of the phrase: “the righteousness of God

Here are two possible meanings –

  • righteousness that has its origins IN God – it proceeds from God
  • righteousness that is an attribute or characteristic of God – one of His qualities

Likewise, the ‘fruit OF the Spirit’ can refer to characteristics of God the Holy Spirit OR qualities gifted to us FROM God the Holy Spirit.

Although related, these two meanings are dissimilar in the doctrine that can proceed.  In one case, you have to work, if you want that same quality; in the other definition all you have to do is RECEIVE.

Words have consequences.  But more than an unintentional mix-up in equivocal meanings, sometimes people love to hammer one particular definition to their benefit, no matter if its appropriate.

If you want to see a segment of people who are bull-doggedly dedicated to a concrete precise and specific use of words, look no farther than argumentative adolescents.  They often will hold an adult to the literal meaning of an utterance.

But YOU SAID, ‘I don’t want to hear anymore that you have had another run-in with your math teacher’  – All I’m saying, Mom, is don’t listen to what my school is telling you!” 

What YOU the parent meant was for the child NOT to get into a dispute with the teacher.  But the child is clinging to the literal meaning of the term, ‘ hear’.  Oy vey – youth!

To end this treatment of precision on a lighter note, I offer a philosophical use of precise terms.  In French, there are two words for ‘second’.  Deuxième refers to 2nd in a list of other ordinals where 2nd is NOT the last in the series.  If one means ‘second and final’, then the French use ‘second‘.

So when a Frenchman wants to imply that the war in the 40s was the world war to end all wars, he employs, “La Seconde…”  but if he does not choose to infuse this communication with that sense, he will use, ‘la deuxième’.  I find those word-based cultural insights compelling!

Question:  What precise words are YOUR favorites?

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