Words and Meaning

One thing I have been struck by lately is how words represent abstractions of a concept or meaning. We use them as short cuts for communication. They remind us of other conversations where the words took shape. What’s most interesting though is that no word has an absolute meaning, but only what we have learned by our experience with it.

Moreover, certain phrases come to have meaning that transcends each of the individual words. If you come to have experience with these words, they are a verbal shortcut to an entire concept. If you have never heard of the groupings they can be almost entirely incomprehensible.

For example, I was reading some reviews of a philosophy book that my friend read, and the review, while using all words that meant something individually, created a cacophony when strung together. Those who had learned those verbal shortcuts probably all nodded their head or spouted off some other gibberish in disagreement.

Each of us has our own set of words and associated meanings. We’ve all experienced conflicts that come from people having different sensitivities to particular words, or someone wanting something to be worded in a very specific way for them to agree with it. Everything we say is merely an approximation or an attempt to share meaning with those around us, and yet it is imperfect.

We can all improve our communication with others by listening for the intent rather than the literal definition of the words (this requires an understanding of the person and restraint to not go too far) and we can be more careful about the words we use to communicate our message so that they are received by the recipient in a way that fits better with their understanding rather than demanding they use our words.






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