Idiocracy – Without the Words

If you do not have the words to describe your world, you will not comprehend what you can not name.

This is a core fact, it was stated by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, it was enlarged in the novel,  Nineteen Eighty Four, and the Barbadian poet, Kamau Braithwaite who wrote; “Give me the words to Control my World.”

It is a complex, yet simple idea.  If, as in Nineteen Eighty Four, there is no word for ‘revolution’,  then one can not think of it.   To prevent people from being able to express their feelings, words were removed.

For example, until I heard the word ‘persiflage’ I did not have the concept.   If you do not have the concept, then you can not go farther then puzzling over something you can’t name, then letting it go.

Limiting language is a way of control.  The idea that language and thoughts are intrinsically entwined is an old concept.  It can be traced back  to Plato.  The power of language to experience and define our world can not be denied.

For example, the Inuit have fifty  different words for snow. They can think more precisely about the exact kind of snow they are experiencing

When  words are removed from a language, when simple words are used  repeatedly which do not fully describe reality, and these words replace the more complex, then one can not think in depth.

Saying,“He is a bad bad man,”  may work with little children who do not have a large enough vocabulary to comprehend, “He is a dishonest and treacherous person who lies pathologically.”

Language is extremely powerful.

There was a time French was the world’s language because it lent itself to more complex ideas.   Today it is English which, being a mixture of various other languages with the ability to create words which are understandable makes it superior.

One can fling an ‘un’ or a ‘ful’ on a word to get a meaning across.  I could take a bag of  crackers and say “these are uncrackers’ which will infer that there is something wrong with them.   I could put a box of cereal back on the shelf and say, “this is sugarful” which instantly communicates it has too much sugar.

When you don’t have the words to describe your world, you can not control it.  This is the key feature.



What do you think?


Written by jaylar

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