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Thread: An unintuitive conception of words

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    An unintuitive conception of words

    A longer thread title might read, “A word with different definitions vs a completely different word spelled identically with different definitions.”

    If we look at a dictionary entry, we typically find a word with alternative definitions. It’s the very same word with different meanings.

    However, with some words, the following entry may misleadingly be the very same word that may also have alternate definitions.

    Consider the word, “tick”. That is a word. It has four letters, starts with a ‘t’, ends with a ‘k’, and has ‘ic’ in the middle. It’s spelled ‘t’, ‘i’, ‘c’ ‘k’.

    It’s my contention that each entry is a different word—not the same same word with what may or may not have a list of varying definitions. Under a single entry, yes, each definition is a separate and different definition for the very same word, but a completely different entry with definitions are not yet more definitions for the same word but for a different word—even if spelled identically.

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    Veteran Member Treedbear's Avatar
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    Sound's like a ticklish question.

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    If you write down a word on your left hand, and if you write down a word on your right hand, then the word written down on your left hand may (or may not) be the same word as written down on your right hand.

    If it so happens that the word written down on your left hand matches exactly to the word written down on your right hand, then it is still the case that the word written down on your left hand is not the same word as written down on your right hand.

    How can that be the case?

    It depends on the relatedness of the denotation.

    Consider the different definitions for the word, “green” when used to describe color:
    Definition 1a, 1b, 1c etc
    That’s three different definitions for the very same word

    Consider the different definitions for the word, “green” when used to describe freshness:
    Definition 2a, 2b, 2c etc
    That’s three different definitions for the very same word

    If the word written down on the left hand is green and denotes 1a, and if the word written down on the right hand denotes 1b, then the word on the left hand is the same word as written down on the right hand.

    However, if the word written down on the left hand denotes 1a, and of the word written down on the right hand denotes 2a, then although “green” is both on the left hand and right hand, they are different words despite identical spelling.

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    What's a word?

    This is actually a tricky linguistic question. In practice in English we treat it as a bunch of letters with no spaces between them. But Latin has words too and the Romans wrote without spaces between them. So how do you tell when one word starts and another ends? Look at all those Latin words that end with "us". Is that a word, or is it a suffix? We normally call it a suffix, and when we write Latin, unlike the Romans we write "us" with no space before it but a space after it. It's a grammatical case marker -- it means "this is the subject of the sentence." Japanese uses "wa" for the same purpose, but for some reason we call that a word and we write it with a space before it as well as after it.

    So in quick answer to your "How can that be the case?" question, in my experience dictionaries usually have a separate entry for a word spelled the same way when there are two different etymologies -- i.e., there used to be two words spelled/pronounced differently, but the words evolved into looking the same. But not always. And there might be better criteria than that...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bomb#20 View Post
    What's a word?
    Something in the mind not in the world.

    The mind makes sense of these symbols on the screen.

    Without the mind they have no meaning.

    And they only have meaning in a mind. They only exist as a word in a mind.

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    Member Tharmas's Avatar
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    Then there are those words that are spelt the same and pronounced the same but have diametrically opposite definitions.

    An example is cleave: to split apart

    and

    cleave: to stick with, stick together.

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    But is it proper to regard the separate entry as being in fact a different word?

    While I might argue that the separate entry is a different word, another might argue that it’s the same word yet with different meanings and etymologies.

    Without a trusted and accepted convention-dependent basis for favoring one or the other, I’m afraid the leg I’m standing on is shaky weak. It reminds me of the mistake others make when failing to differentiate between a referring term that fails to refer and a nonreferring term. It takes a convention being in place to have a stronger foundation for an argument to have credence.

    Even a written word exceeds the scope of what it means to be a word before writing which would have begged the question prior to acceptance that a word written is a word; it would have been more of a description of something on an entirely different metaphysical plane. It would have been like arguing that a statue of a cat is a kind of cat. Frozen water isn’t truly water if necessarily, water is liquid; instead, it’s a description of what has happened to water. Not a different state of water but rather a different state of H2O. Usage of terms over time and conventions accepted have a way of turning things topsy turvey. Today, it would be ridiculous to deny that words appear on pages. That words can be regarded as if belonging to different planes of existence (verbalized, written, thought, idealized) goes to show that we have allowed ‘getting our points across’ to play a major role in the ever increasing scope and even accepted breadth of what can be considered words.

    I believe we should be able to pin down what is correct or incorrect—not as if there is some cosmic absolute but rather a convention-dependent truth. People are so quick to deny what an expert in the field says, and it’s on the flimsy basis of there being an arbitrary heritage.

    If we take all we know from experts in the field, I’d be happy to not defend my contention that words identically spelled are contingently the same—it depends, I say.

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    What are words if not a collection of noises/sounds, each sound assigned a meaning by a set of people according to the objects or ideas that a word/sound represents within a given context, a symbolic consensus by a number of people relating to the language they happen to speak?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DBT View Post
    What are words if not a collection of noises/sounds, each sound assigned a meaning by a set of people according to the objects or ideas that a word/sound represents within a given context, a symbolic consensus by a number of people relating to the language they happen to speak?
    They exist as conceptual entities in the mind.

    They exist nowhere but the mind.

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    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tick

    Notice the second usage under tick1

    A regular short, sharp sound, especially that made by a clock or watch.
    Notice the third usage under tick1

    The smallest recognized amount by which a price of a security or future may fluctuate.
    Notice the first usage under tick2

    A parasitic arachnid which attaches itself to the skin of a terrestrial vertebrate from which it sucks blood, leaving the host when sated. Some species transmit diseases, including tularaemia and Lyme disease.
    Now, I’m going to list the corresponding words without superscript differentiations along with shortened versions of the definition; also, I’m listing them in proposition format:

    P1: Tick - sharp sound
    P2: Tick - smallest price increment
    P3: Tick - parasitic arachnid

    Some of you may look and think you are seeing the word “Tick” listed three times. You may be correct, however, what I’m suggesting is that things (in this instance) aren’t as they seem.

    I don’t see one word three times. What I see are two words—one listed twice and one listed once. The closest analogy would be a type, token distinction

    B O B

    How many letters do you see? One may say three: ‘B’, ‘O’, and ‘B’ while another may say two ‘B’ and ‘O’.

    The reason I see two words is traced back to the superscript entries.

    While this definition:

    A regular short, sharp sound, especially that made by a clock or watch.

    And this definition:

    The smallest recognized amount by which a price of a security or future may fluctuate.

    Are in fact two different definitions for the very same word, this definition:

    A parasitic arachnid which attaches itself to the skin of a terrestrial vertebrate from which it sucks blood, leaving the host when sated. Some species transmit diseases, including tularaemia and Lyme disease

    Belongs to a completely different word. Yes, they are spelled the same, but that is inconsequential due the fact they are not apart of the same entry, and that matters, and there’s a reason it matters. Different entries are different words. No, not the same word listed again but genuinely different words.

    Does anyone buy that? I’m not sold on it, but what say y’all?

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