How You Say It Makes All the Difference
It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. I find it hard to believe, but just maybe those irritating sentence diagrams from 8th grade have paid off after all. I believe that merit resides in splitting our categories of misrepresentation, in the Tree of Knowledge Obfuscation, into a structure producing an additional category member. That new member being – Misrepresentation through Locution or Semantics.
When I write, I tend to develop slightly longer and concatenated sentence structures than that of typical prose. This stems from decades of experience in technical writing. Technical writing tends to be composition inside of which the author attempts to anticipate and counter, in text, any imprecision which might lead later to a misunderstanding or manipulation of the material. Short, simply phrased sentences are prone to a whole host of potential problems with respect to interpretation. Everyone thinks that they fully understand a short simple sentence. But the reality is that such an approach to locution might not deliver the unequivocal or unambiguous integrity of material intended by the author.
Ill meaning forces delight in short idiomatic delivery. For in such a domain of uncertainty they can exploit meaning like a dancer, cavorting among the tombstones in the graveyard of ideas.
As one of my favorite comedians, Mitch O’Hedberg, quips in his monologue “I haven’t slept for ten days. Because that would be too long.” When one utters the phrase – ‘I haven’t slept for ten days’ – both deliverer and recipient believe that we have accurately conveyed the meaning of our original point. And in an idiomatic sense we have. People generally grasp the message one is attempting to convey through such a sentence. Mitch’s comedy lever often hinges on the humorous framing of equivocation, ambiguity and amphibology in our common language and life. But technical writing cannot rely upon the short cut of idiom and colloquial phrase. Ill intended forces, seeking control and not humor, will employ the holes in our delivery to effect outcomes and conclusions according to their preference. The most common (and perhaps least damaging) form of locution abuse occurs in attempts by Social Skeptics to place the deliverer of a message into a prescribed bucket of wink-and-nudge categorization. Oh, she’s an ‘intelligent design proponent,’ or a ‘believer.’ Uh, huh. Through this familiar, but very imprecise set of language vulnerabilities, they socially disarm a message and its proponent – before we can even consider what the proponent has to say.
As well, patent prosecutions, are submitted with just such a set of pitfalls in mind. In a patent application, one is seeking to protect the intellectual property entailed from forces which will seek a loophole. A loophole which would afford exploitation of the new intellectual property without the burden of having to honor the patent. A patent might be declined in an office action by a United States Patent and Trademark Office examiner for instance, in order to provide the applicant opportunity to clarify where semantic overlap has occurred with an existing intellectual property registry. The patent might be in need of small changes in the verbiage in order to eliminate the conflict. Technical writing, fortunately and unfortunately, is a bit like legalese; to wit, I have written many of the contracts my company has issued, with only a final review by our attorneys in many instances. Attorneys are sticklers for ensuring that, in addition to compliance with the structure and stricture of the law, a specific set of locution introduced uncertainties are avoided at all costs.
Contracts cannot tolerate uncertainty in the terms of agreement, and neither can technical writing. Uncertainty, in the forms of the locution errors below, introduces the opportunity for cheating, skirting, misinterpretation, and misunderstanding. Things which can render a clause or an entire contract null in the inception. Things which offer a person wishing to politically manipulate the message of science in their preferred direction, if left any kind of loophole. This is done in both blatant and subtle fashion.
If the ambiguity is obvious it is called “patent,” and if there is a hidden ambiguity it is called “latent.” If there is an ambiguity, and the original writer cannot effectively explain it, then the ambiguity will be decided in the light most favorable to the other party.¹
But Social Skepticism, does not develop technical studies nor contracts. It celebrates the imprecise nature of language and locution. They are the dancers between the tombstones in the graveyard of ideas. Social Skepticism’s specialty is the promulgation of correct thought and the interpretation of science on behalf of us all, through the media. It is in this public forum where a whole series of misrepresentations occurs, both patent and latent. Below we outline our new category of misrepresentation in The Tree of Knowledge Obfuscation, Misrepresentation through Locution and Semantics.
Take for instance, a clip which might be found in a typical journalism piece on science and philosophy. The phrase at first glance might appear to the layman to make a lot of sense – when in reality it is a load of crap and non-sense.
the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning, sense, or use in professional context by glossing over which meaning is intended in the instance of usage, in order to mis-define, inappropriately include or exclude data in an argument.
Proxy Equivocation is the forcing of a new or disliked concept or term, into the definition of an older context, concept or term, in order to avoid allowing discrete attention to be provided to the new concept or term. Often practiced through calling the new concept/term, falsely, a neologism or brush off with the statement ‘that idea has already been addressed.’
the construction or delivery of a message in such words or fashion as to allow for several reasonable interpretations of the context, object, subject, relationship, material or backing of the intended message.
Organic Untruth – a constructive form of argument which uses concealed ambiguity at the core of its foundational structure. A statement which is true at face value, but was not true or was of unknown verity during the timeframe, original basis or domain of context under discussion.
Slack Exploitation – a form of equivocation or rhetoric wherein an arguer employs a term which at face value appears to constrain the discussion or position contended to a specific definition or domain. However, a purposely chosen word or domain has been employed which allows for several different forms/domains of interpretation of the contention on the part of the arguer. Often this allows the arguer to petition the listener to infer a more acceptable version of his contention, when in fact he is asserting what he knows to be a less acceptable form of it.
Uti Dolo (trick question) – a question which is formed for the primary purpose of misleading a person into selecting (through their inference and/or questioner’s implication) the incorrect answer or answer not preferred inside a slack exploited play of ambiguity, interpretation, sequence, context or meaning. The strong version being where the wrong context is inferred by means of deceptive question delivery; the weak version being where the question is posed inside a slack domain where it can be interpreted legitimately in each of two different ways – each producing a differing answer.
is a situation where a sentence may be interpreted in more than one way due to ambiguous sentence structure. An amphibology is permissible, but not preferable, only if all of its various interpretations are simultaneously and organically true.
the twisting of the context inside which a quotation or idea has been expressed such that it appears to support a separate argument and inappropriately promote a desired specific outcome.
Descriptive – the inability to discuss, observe or measure a proposition or contention, because of a language limitation, which has limited discourse and not in reality science’s domain of observability.
Contextual – employment of words in such as fashion as to craft rhetoric, in the form of persuasive or semantic abuse, by means of shift in word or concept definition by emphasis, modifier, employment or context.
Epistemological – the contention that a proposition must be supported by empirical data or else it is meaningless, nonsense or useless, or that a contention which is supported by empirical data is therefore sensible, when in fact the proposition can be framed into meaninglessness, nonsense or uselessness based upon its underlying state or lacking of definition, structure, logical calculus or usefulness in addressing a logical critical path.
bedeutungslos – meaningless. A proposition or question which resides upon a lack of definition, or which contains no meaning in and of its self.
unsinnig – nonsense. A proposition of compromised coherency. Feynman ‘not even wrong.’
sinnlos – useless. A contention which does not follow from the evidence, is correct at face value but disinformative or is otherwise useless.
is a specific type of ambiguity that arises when the meaning or level of hyperbole of a sentence is changed by placing an unusual prosodic stress (emphasis on a word), or when, in a written passage, it’s left unclear which word the emphasis was supposed to fall on.²
the construction or delivery of a message in such words or fashion as to allow for several reasonable interpretations of person, place or thing to which the message applies.
There are of course more errors of locution and semantics which are included in The Tree of Knowledge Obfuscation, but they all in reality stem from a more complex employment of these eight base errors in locution and semantics.
Enjoy truth. Epoché Vanguards Gnosis.
¹ Encyclopedia of American Law: Ambiguity. (n.d.) West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. (2008). Retrieved August 29 2015.
² Accent (fallacy), Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accent_%28fallacy%29. Retrieved August 29, 2015.
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