Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything header image 2

On Calling a Horse a Horse

December 28th, 2007 · Posted by Hugo · 7 Comments

Why must we always call a horse a horse? What is wrong with calling it a perd when talking to an Afrikaans person, a paard when talking to a Dutch person, a cheval when talking to a French person, and a knight when playing chess?

I don’t like the idea of forcing everyone to speak English. What is English anyway? Which dialect of English? Which accent? Sure, with time they could improve their understanding of English, but these things take time. I’m much more interested in communicating accurately, than using a particular “approved” word. Who chooses which words are “approved”, anyway?

So there are a couple of words I have maybe been abusing. Or maybe I have been using them correctly, but they are misunderstood due to abuse elsewhere. For example, I’m not always sure whether I use “modernism” and “post-modernism” correctly. However, I have a good idea what I mean, and I believe most of my audience have a good idea what I mean.

I could spend hours and hours reading philosophy and books from other relevant fields, in order to find the correct, “approved” words. To what ends though? I’m not really convinced this will help me communicate to my target audience, who have not read the same books. I’m convinced that attempting to define every word perfectly, is to attempt to build another Tower of Babel.

The other option, if people are concerned about word-abuse, is that I could coin new words (shock, horror) to describe the concepts I’d like to describe. That way those that follow the blog will have a good idea of what I’m trying to say, while those that drop in out-of-the-blue will see gobbledygook and not understand, which might be better than misunderstanding?

Take Mythos and Logos… in some conversations, I have potentially been abusing these words. A translation of Logos that most closely matches the way I have been using it in recent informal conversations, can apparently be found in Faust:

The notorious question of how to translate logos is topicalised in Goethe’s Faust, with Faust finally opting for “deed, action” (Am Anfang war die Tat).

The alternative suggested by Lousirr during early morning insomniac hours at a time of high stress, would be to coin the words “Meh” and “Lah”, with “Meh” representing the concept I’ve been using “Mythos” for, and “Lah” representing the concept I’ve been using “Logos” for. (Anyone interested in Lousirr’s Meh/Lah rant?)

Ponder, ponder…

Categories: Culture
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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tim Mills // Dec 28, 2007 at 11:37 am


    After the rant (gentle rant, I hope) I recently made on my blog aimed at your re-definition of the word “God”, I feel (perhaps wrongly, arrogantly) that this post is ever-so-slightly aimed at me.

    So here’s me self-consciously responding from my own perspective.

    A language is an amalgam of communicative behaviour within a community. The only (to this linguist) objectively legitimate use of the judgments “right” and “wrong” about language use revolve around its communicative success.

    When I blogged, it was because I felt you were almost universally destined to be misunderstood – to fail to communicate – if you used the word “God” in the way you intended. It is not me, nor even the dictionary I quoted, who determines which usages are “correct” and which are “wrong”. It is simply the community, trying to communicate.

    What you describe above seems to be an attempt to enhance communication by incorporating an understanding of how language works into your selection of words.

    I look forward to seeing how it works. I think it’s a lekker idea. 😉

  • 2 Hugo // Dec 28, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Hehe, if the shoe fits? Naah, this post is not particularly aimed at you. It is aimed at some of the local atheists that I’ve clashed with recently, or feel I might clash with soon, anyway.

    With regards to being almost universally misunderstood, sure. The key is in the almost though, I have decided to care much more about my local community, the people I can meet face to face. My community defines my typical language use. In this community, this is the path I’ve chosen, and the majority of my friends – those that I have met personally – understand me well enough.

    Thanks, btw! Your comments have been very valuable. Your “rant” might have been gentle, irrespective of how I experienced it. I used it as a mirror and saw some of my flaws, and these flaws horrified me. (And the standard reaction is to think it’s the person that wrote the post that is rubbing your flaws in your face, when it is really yourself doing the rubbing…)

    Baie lekker stuff hierdie… I look forward to an exciting new year!

  • 3 Negate // Dec 28, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    Hugo don’t you think that atheists unconsciously made there “god” bigger? 😉

    When you give something a name it becomes natural to give that thing characteristics, when you take the name away that thing can remain eternal and clean from human emotions

  • 4 Hugo // Dec 28, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    As I understand Jewish (?) culture, naming something is taking ownership of that thing. The Genesis story of God bringing the animals to Adam to be named, is then a story of humanity’s “ownership” of the earth. Maybe from that culture the fear of “using God’s name”?

    Ownership. Dangerous idea. I dislike the idea of “ownership” that was/is found in patriarchal societies, “man owns wife”. I like the responsibility definition of ownership: we have a responsibility for this earth, because we have developed the power to destroy it. With great power comes great responsibility? Hehehe… For some really nice definitions of “ownership”, I think one can say “man and wife owns one another”?

  • 5 Negate // Dec 28, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    Do you think man has taken ownership of god? I think they have because god has become part of our humanity.

    Humans gave god feelings and desires in order to corrupt, this may be where not using gods name in vain can come into play as not to use his name in the context where it corrupts.

    Language will be one of the biggest barriers to overcome in order to convey the correct message. jesus was good in the word game we call language.

    I think what you said about communicating with your target audience only is the best route because you will have to learn allot of “languages” if you want universal understanding of certain knowledge.
    Gaining wisdom takes time but will there be enough time to communicate that wisdom

  • 6 Stefan // Jan 1, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    From “The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” (transcript of a BBC interview,

    We used to go to the Catskill Mountains. We lived in New York and the Catskill Mountains was the place where people went in the summer; and the fathers-there was a big group of people there but the fathers would all go back to New York to work during the week and only come back on the weekends. When my father came he would take me for walks in the woods and tell me various interesting things that were going on in the woods-which I’ll explain in a minute-but the other mothers seeing this, of course, thought this was wonderful and that the other fathers should take their sons for walks, and they tried to work on them but they didn’t get anywhere at first and they wanted my father to take all the kids, but he didn’t want to because he had a special relationship with me-we had a personal thing together-so it ended up that the other fathers had to take their children for walks the next weekend, and the next Monday when they were all back to work, all the kids were playing in the field and one kid said to me, “See that bird, what kind of a bird is that?” And I said, “I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of a bird it is.” He says, “It’s a brown throated thrush,” or something, “Your father doesn’t tell you anything.” But it was the opposite: my father had taught me. Looking at a bird he says, “Do you know what that bird is? It’s a brown throated thrush; but in Portuguese it’s a … in Italian a . . . ” he says “in Chinese it’s a . . . , in the languages you want to know what the name of that bird is and when you’ve finished with all that,” he says, “you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You only know about humans in different places and what they call the bird. Now,” he says, “let’s look at the bird.”

  • 7 Hugo // Jan 1, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Hallelujah! 😀

    Thanks Stefan, what an absolutely brilliant contribution. I love it!

    Pray do tell what books I should read… um… once I’m done with the ten that are currently in my way. I’m still fiddling with ideas of how my note-taking API should look. Silly… get something that works, and improve the API later, if needs be. Easy enough if the first API actually works.

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