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Tuesday, 30 June 2009
Steady As She Goes
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by Theodore Dalrymple (July 2009)

 

The relation of language to thought has long been a philosophical puzzle, one to which no universally accepted answer has yet been given. Is language a precondition or determinant of thought, or thought a precondition and determinant of language? For myself, I incline to the latter view, on the no doubt simplistic grounds that, when writing, I often have the following experience.
 
I know that there is something I want to say, but at first the right words do not come to express it. They are, I realise, only an approximation to my idea; then suddenly, dredged from I know not where (though it feels like somewhere located near the base of my skull), the right words arrive and I know at once that they are the best possible words in my possession for what I want to say.  more>>>
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Posted on 06/30/2009 5:45 PM by NER
Comments
5 Oct 2009
Send an emailh hilborn

Political correctness and gender equality are wonderful things; they just don't go far enough. The half of hurricanes which are named with male names, I demand be called "himicanes".



6 Sep 2009
Send an emailKerry

 Several words that ought to be corrected but never will be:  menstruation ought to be person-struation; hysterectomy should be her-sterectomy; and mandate will never change. (Think about it, man-date.)  Of course, all this word modifying is just a pile of person-ure.



5 Sep 2009
Send an emailKRW

All this because some two-bit editor changed "mankind" to "humankind"?  Seriously.  Where have you been the last 15-20 years?  I once got kept after "diversity" class for rolling my eyes and squirming in my chair after listening to 2-3 hours of urban legends containing (supposedly) PC morals.  That was back in the mid-90s.  I mentioned the situation to my otherwise "conservative" doctor and he thought I was exaggerating.  Now he sees things differently.  Maybe you doctors need to get out more.



23 Aug 2009
Dave

 

The prime generic meaning of 'man' (& 'mankind') in English is, and always has been, the species Homo sapiens.  A secondary, very common, meaning is an adult male.  Many words have different meanings according to context.  Native English speakers, even quite young children, understand this.  9 year old children were asked who were meant in sentences such as, "Man will eventually live on Mars" or "Stone age man did not use metal."  As one girl said, " It means everyone - ladies, children & men."  She understood the context.  Academics who will not allow this are either woefully ignorant, or have a hidden agenda - they want to force everyone into accepting their definition of words. 



6 Aug 2009
PL

It's not the "man" in human that's sexist, but the "hum", which is from Latin homo, generally translated as "man".



16 Jul 2009
11B40

Greetings:

 

Back in the ’70s, I was working in the social service industry for the State of New York. At that time, our leaders had discovered the joys of “gender neutral” language and had implemented a training seminar for all their employees. At the appointed time and place, we all met with our office manager to receive our enlightenment, but, alas, the woman who was to conduct the training was tardy. Initially, our manager decided to make use of the time by giving us his take on the issue. After two minutes of droning, he, semi-exasperated, asked if anyone knew where the trainer was.

Lenny, our office wit, answered, “Maybe she fell down a person-hole.”

 

 



12 Jul 2009
Rachelle

Not in my underear or nightgown. Sitting at a desk. Several professional degrees.  I think the good doctor is a great man, a great writer and a treasure to be shared and honored. If you don't agree, don't bother to read him.  If you must read him and then feel the need to critique, come up with something substantive to say. If one criticizes merely because one is feeling oppositional, well then, be prepared to have the grown ups ignore you and continue to thank the good doctor for sharing his wisdom. 



11 Jul 2009
Send an emailjust some dude

 

Re: Anton Ym
 
Is that you doc? No one should be allowed to comment but king Teodore? W-O-W.  The irrational, despotic thought process sounds very familiar. 
 
You say I (did) "not contribute a single thought" yet I mentioned the doc is basically retarded for saying "To suggest that a basketball player can be compared with Mozart is to put all human activities on the same level". Only a certified quack would suggest that a random, fat, boorish, leftist woodpecker's thoughts actually equal reality. Sorry, but most leftists really are people with personal qualities like that.
 
My second thought was that if the doc had to face someone with a strong mental attitude instead of making these proclamations in his underwear from the basement computer, it would be shown the king has no clothes -in quick order. That is the damned truth.

 



11 Jul 2009
Send an emailAnton Ym

I enjoy Mr Dalrymple's essays, but I'm not sure there should be a space available for comments. Usually most of the commenters seem to be idiots such as 'just some dude' who do not contribute a single thought (of which they are incapable of) to the discussion, and who can barely comprehend what they read.

In fact, I think freedom of expression is overvalued, and most blogs would be better off without comments. The fact is, most people don't have anything really interesting to say.

Bravo to Mr. Dalrymple for another thoght-provoking essay. For those who did not like it, fair enough, but please shut up, I for one don't care what you think.



11 Jul 2009
Artemis

Just what the world needs more of: 

anonymous blogosphere tough guys.



10 Jul 2009
just some dude

Doc, doc doc... honestly, you have to get out more. To say that "To suggest that a basketball player can be compared with Mozart is to put all human activities on the same level; and since some activities come easier and more naturally than others, it has the effect of reducing, indeed making quite pointless, any form of cultural aspiration." you must actually believe tis true.

For instance, if you were to say those words to my face, being the simple man that I am, I would kick you so hard in the ass, a competent thought might actually come out of your brain. Truth.



10 Jul 2009
Shelton

If I could suggest an edit for this essay it would be to change the title from "Steady As She Goes," to the more obvious, powerful, and engaging, "One Giant Leap for



4 Jul 2009
Send an emailAymenn Jawad

and in Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell put forward the rather dismal idea that reform of language...can actually mould the content of thought, making some ideas unthinkable and others unchallengeable

No, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is not "rather dismal", Dr. Dalrymple. It actually has some empirical data on its side. To give an example, the Piraha tribe in Brazil are incapable of learning the concept of cardinal and ordinal numbers because their language does not have words for numbers. See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/unlocking-the-secret-sounds-of-language-life-without-time-or-numbers-477061.html for more.

a distinguished medical journal for which I write

Why not just say the BMJ (British Medical Journal) instead of "a distinguished medical journal"? I have noticed this tendency of yours, Dr. Dalrymple, to not refer to publications by name in your writings. Here is another example to illustrate my point:

Recently, for example, I was invited to a lunch at a famous and venerable liberal publication (Life At The Bottom, pg. 245).

Why not just name this "famous and venerable liberal publication"? It sounds so pompous. Why not practise what you preach, Pharisee Dalrymple, when you say that "fewer words are better than more"?

First, it was done without my permission.

So what? Editors edit out things from an article/letter all the time without the writer's permission. I myself had a letter published in the Economist, which can be viewed at http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13642290&fsrc=rss. It was heavily edited without my permission, but why should I care?

I don't see why you are making such a fuss about all this. Your articles from previous issues have been far better. I can only say (forgive the cliché)- get a life, Dr. Dalrymple. I will never forget that lesson Mary Jackson taught me.

 

 

 



1 Jul 2009
Send an emailJoshua

 Well said. Political correctness is a latter-day form of prudishness, and if taken to far can drain the life out of language.

On a similar note, I was pulled up the other day by someone who objected to my use of the word "hell" (as in "they didn't know what the hell was going on"). It was an entirely appropriate word to use in the circumstances, as the people described certainly didn't know what was going on, and the use of the word hell gave appropriate emphasis to that fact.

Now, this may be indefensible coarseness on my part. However, as far as curse words are concerned, "hell" is pretty tame. I didn't drop the dreaded c-bomb, or the f-bomb or even the s-bomb (and I note the irony of the tamest of swear words being called the "h-bomb").

The only other ground offense would be profanity, although this concerned with impugning what is sacred. Hence, saying "God" or "Christ" in the wrong context is out, but since hell is run by the other guy you'd think that'd be okay (I must profess unfamiliarity with what any Satanic holy book has to say on the matter).

But, then again, what the hell would I know...