Tag Archives: Analogous terms

Watch out for sound byte – type thinking

2 Dec

Combat/combat……..Life/life………the Dead/the dead…….ISRAEL/Israel…..the Church/the church


We often fail to make distinctions and conflate multiple senses of a word into one.  This is called the Fallacy of Equivocation.  We commit these either out of ignorance or deliberately to confuse.

Kids are masters at the ‘art’ of equivocation or their other favorite technique, the fallacy aptly name, ‘Distinction without a Difference.’ You remember doing that yourself, right?  When you’d be called out by a parent for violating a house law.

“I wasn’t jumping up and down upstairs, I was only alternating my feet rapidly and firmly on the floor!”

But today, let’s focus on words that are analogous, but can mask intentions.  I thought about this listening to Mr. Obama defend his decision to send in some special forces soldiers who have ‘engaged in combat’.  He was being accused of contradicting his policy of NO MORE COMBAT TROOPS in Afghanistan.

That’s when it occurred to me that there is an explicit, all-out policy of ‘Combat’ as well as the kind of ‘combat’ that takes place when soldiers come under fire and defend themselves.  Given the difference between the two, we have the responsibility to pause to consider the surrounding circumstances and the speaker’s intentions.

What about the term, ‘Israel’?  Does this name refer to only one group of people, Jews from the Middle Eastern country?   Again, we have to consider different contexts.  At the simplest level, Israel IS a country. But that appellation also refers to the group of people who have been given a saving faith in Jesus. Paul, divinely inspired, writes in Romans 11:26, “….all Israel will be saved.”   One must take the time and…..

think before one parses out which concept Israel refers to – the literal or the metaphorical.

What about Life and life?  Again, one is literal (are you breathing?) and one could refer to a state of enthusiasm and ‘joie de vivre’ or even ‘eternal life’ in a Christian context.

And what about Jesus who challenges his hearers with this command, “Let the dead bury the dead!”  What are the two senses in which He employs this term?  The spiritually dead and the physically dead.

And finally the Church – well, we have the church building proper, the collective of worshippers, whether actual Christian or not and then all those who are referred to as the ‘true’ church, who belong to Jesus and will be with Him forever.

These examples might seem too obvious to even write about, but in today’s climate, I find myself often exasperated at how often people tear into others with a, “But he SAID…..” without having the courtesy to give someone the intellectual benefit of the doubt and actually ASK for clarification.

May we who claim to be logical practice courteous and respectful discourse!










Logical Gal and Equivocation

27 Nov

Equivocal terms such as fall – meaning autumn and fall – meaning to tumble down refer to concepts that are completely different.

So in essence, you might be tricking your listeners by pretending to be consistent when all along you are taking advantage of them.  My dad used to accuse me of equivocating when I was being an argumentative little brat.  Since I had not enjoyed any formal training in equivocation, this skill of obfuscation must come naturally, even to middle-schoolers!

Here are a couple of cartoon examples:  This first one actually plays on analogical terms – terms that are similar.  Stealing a material good versus stealing a base to advance in a game.

Yes, much humor and plenty of puns rely on equivocal terms.  But sometimes, disingenuous use of terms are employed as a shortcut o advance one’s point of view.

I’ve heard scientists argue that the universe came into being out of NOTHING.  But they don’t mean the kind of nothing that is NO THING.  They actually mean something existent, that they call a quantum vacuum.  Do you see how they are playing 2 differing concepts off of each other?  One term ‘nothing’ refers to the concept of  NO THING.  The other term ‘nothing’ refers to the very different concept of ‘quantum vacuum’.   Here’s an article that explains this deliberate obfuscation – Something from nothing?

 Does THIS book cover look like a book about nothing? 

So what’s our take away?  Watch out lest WE  be caught in the equivocal trap.  We must strive to say what we mean, ourselves.  Language demands precise thinking!