Sunday, July 8, 2018

what it means to mean

What a peculiar moniker "meaning" is.

A trip to one internet dictionary yields the peculiar definition, "what is meant by a word, text, concept, or action." Which begs the question of what "meaning" might mean... leading to a tail-chasing exercise ... the meaning of "meaning" is what "meaning" might mean. That ought to fry anyone's eggs.

Another definition -- this one from Merriam Webster, which is one of the few dictionaries that actually digs in to the words it includes: "the thing one intends to convey especially by language....the thing that is conveyed especially by language....something meant or intended...significant quality; especially : implication of a hidden or special significance....the logical connotation of a word or phrase; the logical denotation or extension of a word or phrase ...." and there is more.

What a peculiar moniker, "meaning." Academics pounce like a cat on catnip. Philosophers find yet another excuse to sit in a Paris cafe and ponder. Do-gooders and sooth-sayers smooth the lashing of life's waves. And coincidentally create an income stream. The grief-stricken are consoled ... well, not really, but you know what I mean.

Meaning -- what would things be like if for just one moment -- one gentle, firm moment -- "meaning" were excised from anyone's lexicon. No anger, no cynicism, no eureka, no sorrow, no confusion, no greed, no love or joy, no wisdom or ignorance ... just excised.

The tractor trailer tipped over.
The couple got married.
The maddened elephant stormed through the village.
The seas rose and the wind blew.
From across the room came a single smile.
The graffito read, "A kiss that lasts forever is a strange gift."

And with the excision of "meaning,' of course, any notion of "no meaning" would, ipso facto, likewise be excised. What would that be like?

Remember the times where the desperate need for "meaning" was all but overwhelming? Remember the last time some slick-tongued nitwit opined, "it is what it is?" Remember, remember, remember the meanings for which anyone might cry out or inveigh against and yet ... and yet ... and yet.

"Meaning" is a peculiar moniker.

I want to say "the other side of the mirror," but the peculiarity of "meaning" leaves such a phrase floundering on some psychobabble dock.

Gently, firmly ... "slip-sliding away."

Is "meaning" necessary? How could anyone know without giving it a rest?

What might "giving it a rest" mean?


  1. On the practical side, ones notion of meaning might inform one as to how to respond to whatever event or statement brought that meaning to mind. If someone charges at you growling you might think, they "mean" me harm. And you might respond by flight or fight or maybe something creative.

    But of course, the response will be all mangled up with whatever "purpose" has invaded ones beliefs. Perhaps god purposes you to fight, or turn the other cheek, or something creative.

    My favorite is to urge folks to stand on their head and piss up a rope. I still hope to someday meet someone with the courage to try it. But perhaps the "meaning" and "purpose" of such an act lack clarity.

    Perhaps it offends their dignity. But I imagine dignity is just a bluff suggesting one is dangerous enough to be unafraid and shouldn't be trifled with. Some might argue there's more to it. But I've seen my dog assume great dignity when he knew the coyote's were trailing us just out of sight in the darkness to one side, measuring the possibilities. Considering his age and my being armed only with a flashlight, it was a good bluff. Our dignity did protect us.

  2. Re: "What It Means To Mean"

    "Philosophers find yet another excuse to sit in a Paris cafe and ponder."

    LOL! Sounds to me that you want to set up a shop down the block or at least you'd be a regular if someone else did.

    BTW - What's up with the condescending attitude towards philosophers?

    Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. ... Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation.

    Yes, philosophers do take semantics seriously as should any should any good analyst.

    And yes, some people assuming the title of philosophers are or were ass-hats. What of it?

  3. Andy -- Have you noticed that philosophy teachers are one of the few breeds that does not deny a designation as a "philosopher?" That always got my interest.

    Otherwise, the question I have for those who are philosophically inclined (and yes, it can (maybe) urge an individual to some practical application) is this: "If I'm so smart, how come I'm not happy/content/satisfied?"

    Based on experience, I am just wary. As Vivekananda put things succinctly, "The mind (he meant intellect) is a good servant and a poor master."