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.

slept for 10 days too long - CopyAs 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.

locution errors - Copy cbg - Copy - Copy

Equivocation (Irish Pennant)

the misleading use of a term, principle or construct 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, change context of and inappropriately include or exclude domain inside  an argument.

Wittgenstein Error (Context) – one shifts the meaning of words to their favor or disfavor by the exploiting the context in which they are employed.

Data, sample, cohort, retrospective, evidence, study, meta-analysis

Wittgenstein Error (Footprint) – one employs words which have large grammatical footprint, in order to exploit a portion of that potential footprint of meaning in order to drive home an argument or craft a denial.

Woo, ridiculous, contrarian, outsider

Secundum Quid – when one exploits a failure to appreciate the distinction between using words absolutely and using them with qualification.

Pseudoscience, apophenia, pareidolia

Anodyne Phrasing – phrasing deliberately posed in suitable apothegms or buzzwords which are not likely to provoke dissent, offense or disagreement – so that more extreme agendas backed by such locution can be subtly approved by all. Terms such as ‘justice’, ‘hate’, ‘Nazi’, ‘equality’, ‘immigration’ – where the hearer hears one thing, but the agenda poser means another.

Slack Exploitation – an arguer employs a constraining term, which at face value appears to bound the discussion, model 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 of interpretation of the contention on the part of the arguer.

Unlikely, tail condition, law of large numbers

Object or Subject Ambiguity – 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.

They, it, them, all, entire, those who, you, these

Hyperbolic Error – one employs words which overlap with more suitable terms, however which range into a realm of overemphasis or exaggeration which the arguer finds convenient.

Inconceivable, ridiculous, irrational, tirade

Praedicate Evidentia – one employs conclusive terms which suggest the end to a logical process, or the plenary state of its soundness or evidence, to imply something of greater inferential strength than what is indeed reality.

Consensus, conclusive, settled, indicative, points to, scientists consider, researchers have found

Accent Drift – one employs a specific type of ambiguity that arises when the meaning 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.

Could, maybe, if, really, absolutely, certainly, probably, suppose, I guess

Compactifuscation – when one merges several disparate but associated concepts or definitions into one single descriptive term, so that epistemological weakness or strengths characteristic of a subset of the definitions held equivocally inside the term, can be ported over to the remaining set of definitions, without overt support or challenge in doing so.

Pseudoscience, numpty, neologism, sheeple

Portmanteau – originally a large trunk made of stiff leather, which opened into two differing but equal sized parts – which has transmuted into meaning a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others.

Fauxtography (from ‘faux’ and ‘photography’) or brunch (from ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’)

Circular Reference – one employs definitions, data or expertise which obtain their authority through reference to other definitions, data or expertise which are of a single club in their origin – usually a club which suffers from anomie.

Irrational, credulous, magical thinking, contrarian

Weapon Word – a series of fashion terms among those who consider themselves elite and intelligent in comparison to a targeted disliked group in their mind. The manufacture, instruction and deployment of key expressions into the educational, push channel media, public and social skeptic discourse, targeting a goal of social intimidation and indoctrination.

Bubba, quack, creationist, truther

Anachronistic Proxy or Reference – one employs a concept, axiom or term which only has applicability or meaning in a current time frame of reference, however which suitably lenses past principles or events to now stand as examples for their argument or denial.

Myth, sadistic, stoic, archaic, pedantic, polemic, muckraker

Hedging – the a priori employment of ambiguous words or phrases, for the purposeful instance wherein they can be reinterpreted in such a way as to appear to be in consensus, if one is later found to be wrong on a position of denial and opposition.

Concerns, gaps, inconsistency, shortfall, non-compliance, irregularity

Advantageously Obtuse (Bridgman Reduction) – a principle which has been translated, summarized or dumbed-down for consumption so as to appear to be a ‘simple’ version of its source principle; however, which has been compromised through such a process.

“Occam’s” Razor versus Ockham’s Razor, Misrepresentations of: simple, Fat Tony, Anti-fragile, Popper Demarcation

Flummery – meaningless ceremonial or sycophant journalism – often characterized by worn out catch phrases, article structures, quotes, recitations, common bad guys, phrase cloning, celebrity deference and social peer flattery, often inexpertly applied and misunderstood by the writer.

Anti-science, tin-foil hatter, Moon landing hoax, Trumper, bed-wetter

Non Rectum Agitur – one executes a purposeful abrogation of the scientific or other logical method through corrupted method sequence or the framing and asking of the wrong, ill prepared, unit biased or invalid question, conducted as a pretense of executing such method on the part of a biased participant. Applying a step of such method, advantageously out of order.

Peer review, scientific method, publication, mathematical proof, proof, “Occam’s” Razor, evidence, Baloney detection kit, p-value, amaurosis

Aphronêsis – one employs twisted, extreme, ill timed, misconstrued, obtuse or misapplied wisdom, sometimes even considered correct under different contexts of usage – which allow an agenda holder to put on a display of pretend science, rationality and skepticism.

Critical thinking, rationality, science, investigation, research, skepticism

Tangenda – one forces the critical path of an argument to be constrained to term which sounds applicable, but entails or enforces a completely different logical calculus.

Virtue, democracy, aid, slavery, nationalism, unemployment


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 (verum mendacium) – a constructive form of argument which exploits concealed ambiguity or altered premise as the core of its foundational structure. A statement which is true at face value, but was not true or was of unknown verity under the time frame or original basis, soundness, domain or context under discussion.

Not a Logical Truth – It is not that this type of statement is false. The basis of this type of assertion may even reside in scientific validity, or may be only categorically true – i.e. only true if given a specific set of circumstances. However the statement is not a logical truth – a truth of syllogism which is comprehensive, unqualified and unequivocal. Logical truth is the state of syllogism which a deceitful person is wishing for you to infer when they state a categorical truth, yet do not specify its conditions. It is a means of lying through stating something which is only conditionally accurate – hoping that their victim will accept the statement as one which addresses all circumstance.

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.

Context Dancing

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.

Wittgenstein Error

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.

Accent Drift

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

Subject Ambiguity

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; Retrieved August 29, 2015.