My Relationship To My Words

We have a relationship with the words we use. There is a subjectivity associated with the words we use and how we use them. Objectivity of words in our language is often slippery, sometimes vacuous. Think of the word ‘know’, how many different forms and uses this word takes on, what part it plays in the meaning of the sentence:  ‘Do you know where you live?’, ‘I know I left my keys around here somewhere.’, ‘How do you know the world exists?’, ‘I know what that means.’ Each of these sentences uses ‘know’ in characteristically different ways, even though the same four letters and (presumably) definition is used.

Each person has a relationship to words like these, they understand words to be doing something in particular in their sentences, sometimes known only to them. Philosophy at times is like a game of deciphering words. More precisely, it is a game of deciphering relationships to words. Philosophers will use a word like ‘know’ in a very interesting or specific way, without spelling out the distinction between it and the common use. It may be used in a way unknown to the philosopher himself, but its use exposes it for a particular breed of word. At the very least, the first task of reading any philosophy paper is determining the vocabulary the philosopher is writing in. They may be using the same words we know (or think we do) but typically it’s like learning a new language (or language game).

Our personal relationships to the words we use lead us to become closer to some words than others. Words are picked out and marked as favorable in certain circumstances to spell the point that is trying to be made. It’s as if our words are a circle of friends we all call on when we are in need of help, some we can rely on to give us the best use in the situation given. With this relationship comes a certain kind of lost objectivity in the words. Another person’s use of the word ‘know’ can be extremely different, and even though the definition may still hold, it doesn’t mean the same thing in a very real sense. This creates a puzzle in communication. It’s as though the bare objective sentences we use lack the real force we wish to make. We want that relationship to the words to be present in the sentences we express, but mostly it is missed. It is a skill to be able to communicate this sense, something that requires not only clarity of language, but clarity of thought. Without clear thoughts, there are no clear sentences.

I feel this subjectivity, the realization of it, is a key step in learning to read and write. The ones who can clearly evaluate and expound the relationship to their words have found a kind of freedom. They are not longer trapped by their own words, trying to desperately to say what they mean, they know what they mean because they are clear about their relationship to them. Unless it is made clear what I’m saying, I don’t know what I’m saying. If I don’t know what I’m saying, then why am I writing?

~ by Barky on May 13, 2010.

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