Thursday, May 19, 2011

On semantics, abstract nouns, and fighting with my journalist cousin

My journalist cousin and I had a little debate about a certain kind of locution. She quoted a pithy remark--

   i. Life is sexually transmitted.

But I countered--

   ii. In vitro babies beg to differ with your first assertion, cuz.

She then objected--

   iii. it says "Life is sexually transmitted." Not "ALL life is sexually transmitted." So there.

At this point, I called-in my personal semantic police force, saying "Not so fast, cuz!" I analyzed such locutions as follows:

* * *

   i*. "Money is electronically transferred." My dollar bills beg to differ with that assertion; there's some that ain't. I said, "Money is electronically transferred." Not "ALL money is electronically transferred."

Same error? Yes. But now consider two others:

   iv. "Rock is atomically constructed." Here, for this case, there is no rock that ain't. So, this all-less "is" does indeed stand equivalent to saying "ALL rock is atomically constructed."

   v. "Life is biologically evolved." Again, it looks like there is no life that ain't. So, this all-less "is" likewise stands equivalent to saying "ALL life is biologically evolved."

Conclusion: the lack of an "ALL" sometimes allows "some ain't" and sometimes doesn't allow "some ain't." What an "is" remark says is easily misinterpreted.

* * *

I told her to run this analysis by my two favorite, grammar-proficient aunts, and see if they buy my position. Of course I'm an analytic philosopher, and she a journalist; but, since her mother was a speech therapist, and her mother's sister (i.e., my other aunt) was a college grammar teacher, this could end up being quite the family squabble. Alas--Grammar is ambiguously understood.


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At 12:16 PM, Blogger ~ Marty Alan Michelson said...

I wonder if your cousins do - or do not like - enjoy conversing with you? They either feel enlightened - or stupid! ha!

I always appreciate your clarity and logic!

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Tallie Allie said...

Thank you. I needed the laugh. That was really good to read :)


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