Tag: Language

The Figura Language

There may be a radically different way to do grammar, which is simpler than any other grammar, and can potentially get the same things across given the right words extant within the language. The simple rule is this: everything is an analogy. The simplest kind of statement would be two words, e.g., Christmas:Hanukkuh. That says that Christmas is in some way analogous to Hannakuh. A sentence might actually be one word, as individual words may take the place of simple or complex analogies. “I am hungry” could be be expressed as one word, if such a word so evolved. 

Analogies may be nested to any degree, with single words replacing pairs wherever convenient. No words are pre-defined for this language; they would have to evolve on their own, and/or be borrowed from other existing languages, or all be borrowed from one language. I’d personally prefer English or Latin. English makes sense because it’s the closest language to a universal language we have yet, and also it’s the most natural, flowy sounding language (even according to those for whom English is not their mother tongue). and Latin makes sense because it’s the best common denominator to the tree of languages that have evolved since it, regarding their words’ roots, and also it just sounds really cool.

Supposing we could summon up a suitable analogy for “is”—the “is” of attribution—and we then replaced that analogy with the word “is”, we could then say “the son is hot” like so: “sun:hot:::is”. “Is” could probably be defined as something like this: “Earth:round” (since the relationship between Earth and round is that the former “is” the latter). Thus we wouldn’t have to say “son:hot::Earth:round” and generally go around using the idiom “Earth:round” all the time. The “is” of identity, on the other hand, would be much more concrete: it could signify A:A, or even 2+2:4, so we could say, ’43rd president:”George W. Bush”::isofidentity’ (or whatever shorter word we concoct for “is” of identity, such as “isi”), which expands to: ’43rd president:”George W. Bush”::2+2:4′. Except that “43rd president” would actually be in analogical form, for example, something like this: “president:43::ordinal,” where ordinal could defined as, say, “first:1″. So the final statement might be something like this: ‘president:43::ord:::”George W. Bush”::isi’, fully expanding to (as one possibility): ‘president:43::first:1::::”George W. Bush”::a:a’.

“And” would be a relationship too, of course, but I’m not sure of what kind. It seems to signify the most general kind of relation: the relationship two things have by virtue of their being related in the given sentence. Actually, I guess it could be considered a grouping term. It seems even antithetical to the system of hierarchical pairs (which is essentially what the Figura system is), since “and” can link any number of items serially. And the same applies to “or.”

I’m loathe to add more rules to the grammar just for those two words, particularly since they can be represented via hierarchical pairs, albeit awkwardly (kind of analogously to using nested ifs in programming instead of “else if”‘s), but I had already been thinking of allowing series anyway, of the form “a:b:c:d:[etc]”. The only problem, then, is, for example, if “b” in the above example represented the pair “e:f”, how would one fully expand the expression? It doesn’t seem possible to do in a particularly logical way: one could only itemize the relation “b” as a singular entity. But there’s no really big reason not to do it this way other than that it breaks the language’s capacity of allowing one to expand any given sentences by recursively expanding its terms, within the language’s own grammar. ­

In Latin, semantic structure is afforded purely by “accidence”—that is, word relationships are determined solely (or almost solely?) by inflection, so a sentence is a collection of inflected words that you can put in any order you want, in general. If inflections are used with Figura in its adoption, or creation, of words, then it adds the risk of making the semantics more complicated, by using two individually sufficient modes of grammar—the analogical and the polysynthetic—rather than less complicated. (If we don’t want to do that, and we use Latin for our word base, then perhaps we could use Latino sine Flexione.)

Though, on the other hand, I suppose Figura’s benefit of complexity-in-simplicity is no less beneficial if used as a feature of a new language—rather than as the sole basis of its semantics—in conjunction with any other feature of organization, as long as it’s still the sole modus for word ordering and punctuation. In other words, maybe it’d just be like having Latin—or Esperanto for that matter—on crack.

But on the other hand again, those inflections that take the place of word order in other languages may totally clash with the grammar of hierarchical analogy. I should hope that, if words in an existing language with sentence-structural implications are borrowed or otherwise used, then we don’t just forgo bothering to synthesize any analogical definitions for them based on more-principal words. Especially considering that this language is mostly intended to be an experiment in cognition: that is, is our understanding of things fundamentally based on comparison and nothing more?  (How else would organized thought arise from the so-called tabula rasa?) And if not, then why is it that the simple modality of Figura could go so far?

In the examples I’ve given thus far, I only demonstrated how the language could be done in writing. You can’t very well pronounce series of colons in speech. There are a few different possibilities for efficiently expressing the grammar in speech:

1. For each number of consecutive colons, invent a new word, which I’ll call a “structuring word”: E.g, if “:” were “an” and “::” were “kan”, then “sun:hot::is” would be said, “sun an hot kan is”. This is still rather verbose—people’s jaws would probably become tired from having to say “an” and “kan” so often. We can probably completely eliminate the word for single “:”’s without any loss of information, since a “:” would in that case be the only possibility for any two adjacent non-structuring words. However, I’m still not sure that’s efficient enough.

2. ­Invent words for specific analogy-tree structures and precede a given sentence, or sentence part, with the word for its particular tree structure. Since there are so many possible tree structures, a combination of this and Method 1 should probably be used, where only the most common tree structures get their own words.

3. Invent words for all the shortest and lowest-level tree structures, and enunciate higher-level bifurcations only as they come, using method 1. This may be cleaner analytically than method 2—if it’s even practical, but it might come at the considerable expense of both naturalness/organicity and dynamism in the language. 

4. Invent words for various tree structures per method 3 or 4, but allow a structural word to refer to a larger-scale structure inasmuch as its implied structure applies particularly to that scale. For example, in a:b::c:::d::::e:f, its second-level structure would be “x:::y::::z”—where “x” signifies “a:b:c”, “y “signifies “d”, and “z” signifies “e:f”. If the ⌂:::::::⌂ relation is called “tar,” ⌂:::⌂ is called “yar,” and ⌂:⌂ is called “an”, then the entire sentence could be said, “tar yar a b c d an e f”. In other words, “yar a b c” is embedded within “tar ⌂ ⌂ ⌂”, where the first ⌂ becomes “yar a b c” or “a:b::c”, the second “⌂” becomes “d”, and the third ⌂ becomes “an e f” or “e:f”.

Or alternatively, “tar” and “yar” could be the same word, as a second-level structure of ⌂:::::::⌂ corresponds to a first-level structure of ⌂:::⌂. That might only serve to be confusing, though. I picked 2 as the number of bifurcation levels per scale arbitrarily, but it doesn’t have to be 2, and it doesn’t have to be anything in particular anyway. Bifurcation levels themselves could just be indicated by the selection of word used, and scales/bifurcation levels may or may not be relative to how they’re nested.

For example, if one could say, “tar tar a b c d an e f” for “a:b::c:::d::::e:f,” then the bifurcation levels implied by the first tar” would be relative to those implied by inner “tar”; and if one could say, “tar an a b c d” for “a:b::c:::d,” then the implied bifurcation levels for tar” would be shifted up by only 1 instead of 2 levels. Since Method 2 or 3 might be used in combination with Method 1, “a:b::c:::d::::e:f” might, for example, be expressible as “tar yar a b c d e an f”, or, perhaps, if “san” is “:::” and “man” is “::::”, “tar a b c san d man e an f,” or even “tar a b c san d man an e f”, et cetera and so on—depending on how we define the grammar.

5. The number of possible tree structures that we’d have to invent words for could be greatly reduced if we instated a practice of rearranging sentences’ word orders to fit already-existing tree-structure words. For example, we wouldn’t need to separate words for each of structures ⌂:::⌂ and ⌂:::⌂, because “a::b:c” could, instead, be said as “b:c::a”. This may make the language sound unnecessarily strained and inelegant, though. At least it would not necessarily be a rule that we use an existing tree-structure word whenever possible.. we could be allowed to use Method 1 whenever we wish.

But I am not even sure that we would have to use any of the above methods but Method 2, since we may create a lexicon of tree structures rich enough to be applicable to all applied situations.

You may have noticed that I haven’t even addressed the problem of actions yet, which bears worth getting into. Take “he went to the store.” In Figura, it might be “he:store::wentto” (or, we could say, “he:store::goto:::did”—but we’ll go with “he:store::wentto”..), but what is “wentto”? For a suitable analogy, all we really need is a comparable juxtaposition—take any instance in which someone went to something which is well-known. Christ went to the altar, but “Christ:altar” doesn’t really work because Christ also did other things with the altar. 

What we need here is a story.. a story of a man, who went to something, the story being mainly centered around his having gone to it. An epic or a folk tale, perhaps.. or even better.. a mythology. By being immortalized in language, this allegory would be thusly embedded in the minds of all who use it, and brought closer to the surface of consciousness every time someone says that somebody went to something. The same would apply to all the other allegories and analogies we would use for other words. So, thanks to a language, we would now have a suitably myth-based culture.

The word “wentto” as defined above wouldn’t be the only possibility to use in the sentence, naturally.. The man being an object, and the store being an object, other possible analogies could apply. There could be an allegory, or even an iconic historical event, where one thing moved toward another thing. And this even might be more applicable to the above situation, in context, than that the allegory that actually involves a man, according to the judgement of the person using it, for some odd reason.

Or perhaps there is a third allegory, one in which a man went to a store. And maybe this one is always used, or more generally used, for people going particularly to stores. Or perhaps the speaker just thought it more suitable for the moment. And why not 2 to 3 or more allegories that apply specifically to a person going to a thing?  In that case she could have said, “goto(3) kan he an store did,” where “goto(3)” is meant to symbolize the third word taken from these allegories and wouldn’t actually use the number 3 in natural Figura.

In that case, we’ve eliminated the highest-order relational signifier, which would have been a “san” between “store” and “did,” because, with all the other structural signifiers in place, there was no other possibility for that relation; “store” and “did” could only have been separated by a “:::“.

Anyway, the point is that there could be any number of available metaphors, overlapping or even redounding in applicability, for use in any given situation. Having a plurality of words available for any given use isn’t a new concept, of course. English, for example, is known to be an extremely “rich” language, having numerous synonyms (with usefully differing aesthetics and connotations) for most words.

In the example, “goto(3) kan he an store did,” I really wanted to order the words, “he [??] did [??] goto(3) [??] store”, but there was just no way to do that with the given system of structures. So it brought to mind an extra possibility: the possibility of significators for structures where other words occur in between analogous pairs. This would mean that, instead of signifying structures such as ⌂:::⌂, the order in which the words occur in the structure could itself be a dynamic, so that, e.g., “mar” could signify ⌂2:3::1. Thus “a:b::c” could be expressed as “mar c a b”.

Note that this syntax also allows us to invoke the same sentence word twice in the implied structure, e.g.: tra could signify ⌂1:2::2:3, so that “tra Donald Trump rock genius” would mean that Donald Trump is to a rock as a rock is to a genius. Of course, this brings into view the problem that multi-word terms being borrowed into the language could cause ambiguity in the tree structures.

Of course, I had two choices there: have ­subscripts index words in a sentence so that where they appear in the key reflects where the indexed words would appear in that key, so that ⌂2 means that the second letter after “mar” appears there, or the converse: have ⌂2 mean that the second letter in “a:b::c” would appear there. The first choice is the better one for almost all purposes, and is more logical. Although instead of using ⌂’s and subscripts, we could use letters, as in “mar: b:c::a.” We could also include the inverse lookup, like so:

mar: b:c::a 🡒 “a b c” .. a:b::c 🡒 “c a b”. In other words, “mar a b c” would mean “b:c::a” and “mar c a b” would mean “a:b::c”.

Or we could illustrate it as,

mar: ⌂2:3::1 🡒 “⌂123” .. ⌂1:2::3 🡒 “⌂312

Or better, we could do it graphically:




And some other arbitrary and unlikely examples of what could be invented (these examples probably being needlessly complicated)..




And repetition..


The last subject I wanted to touch upon is definite and indefinite articles. Some readers might be wondering how one would express “an apple” or “the apple” in Figura.. 

“An apple” could be signified simply by “apple”, as with Esperanto, but for “the apple” it seems we’d need some way of expressing the attribute “as that which”, for example, as in “an apple, as that which had been mentioned before…”, but this seems hard to do in Figura. Without parts of speech, “that” has little meaning. And “as” might be tricky to represent in a language that’s only based on “as” to begin with. Even if we just directly adopted the word “the” and tried to invent a suitable meaning-analogy for it, it doesn’t relate two different things—it only relates one thing, and apple:the seems like a bad analogy, because how can something that could apply to everything be analogous to “apple”? General:specific might be a pertinent analogy, but how would it be used? 

I think something like “apple:aforementioned object” might be sufficient. Come to think of it, if we can say “aforementioned object” then we can just say “aforementioned apple.”  How do we attribute “aforementioned” to the object? Similarly, how would we say “red apple”? I guess the problem of including the definite article boils down to the problem of including adjectives. Does “apple:red” work? Consider “apple:me::ate”: “an apple is to me as [something else is to something/someone that ate one in some well-known event or allegory].” Now consider “apple:red::me:::ate”: an apple is to red as [me, as if I were a relation] in the way that [something else is to something/someone that ate one in some well-known event or allegory].”.. nope, doesn’t work.

One possibility might be just to use word-compounding, by which “red apple” would become “red-apple”. But would word-compounding constitute a secondary grammatical principle? Perhaps not, since even though “red” and “apple” are separate words in English, the word base of Figura is not defined as the word base of English, so “red-apple” (as an example) can easily be infused into Figura’s word base as simply just another word.. Also, I am partial to word-compounding languages, especially regarding noun compounding. In this scenario, perhaps red-apple would be noun compounding because, as Figura has no convention for adjectives specifically, “red” would not by definition be an adjective.. It could be synonymous with the qualia “redness” or the color red, which are both nouns.

It may seem, on the face of it, that requiring a hyphen for, e.g., red-apple or yellow-phone, as opposed to using “redapple” or “yellowphone”, is an arbitrary distinction, given that they are just single terms in Figura either way and that any compound word that becomes common enough is prone to eventually having its hyphen dropped anyway.. and thus it may seem that such a requirement is unnecessarily authoritative. But it really does serve a useful purpose: without specified word delineations, it’s harder to tell—at least at first glance—where one word ends and another begins. In some cases, there could be syntactical ambiguity involved; in other cases, it could simply be aesthetically displeasing, throwing off the mind’s natural ability to parse. But once a compound word becomes mainstream enough to have its hyphen dropped, recognizing it as such has already become second-nature. And some compound words never do become agglutinated because it doesn’t look right. (Consider “mainstream” versus “second-nature,” for example.) So, authority and distinction on the use of hyphenated words are thus justified. 

Adverbs, on the other hand, might never have to be used. If you want to say “he ran quickly to the store” instead of “he ran to the store,” you’d simply use another more suitable allegory in which someone ran quickly to something, perhaps even to a store.  

Going back to the original “aforementioned apple” problem, it occurs to me that we could just do it like so: “apple::object:aforementioned”, but what analogy would “aforementioned” expand to? Or could we just borrow the word directly? Or would it name a myth/popular event that we make up or recall? And could “object:aforementioned” be shortened to “the”? Or could we just say “apple:aforementioned”? And then “the” doesn’t necessarily refer to something that was previous mentioned, though it does seem to imply that the object was somehow already considered or necessitated.

One final note: while I created this language for the purposes of linguistic experiment, it has also brought my attention to the general possibility of using allegory and mythology more pervasively in existing languages. For such purposes, for any given language, ideally we should be able to create a bunch of new words—particularly or especially adverbs—which represent specific allegories, myths, parables, epics, well-known events, and so on, of its given culture. That may or may not be memetically practical, though, given that their origins would be artificial and given modern anti-mythological culture.

An Aspect of of Postmodern Society

Ever notice how many computer messages leave out important grammatical parts like subjects and definite articles? And yet we forgive them because they’re just computers, right? How could a mere computer be expected to master such subtleties in language? But the odd thing is, these messages are, and always have been, typed in verbatim by computer programmers.  So, awkward as this style of message is, it must be used because we feel most comfortable if the awkward, clumsy, refractory nature of a computer is reflected in the diction it emits. My the perception of authority is a factor in this too. (Why do we see machines as authoritative?)

But computers aren’t the only context in which we use this style of message. Corporations are another. Ever read instructions printed on the box of an item? They, too, leave out a subject, definite articles, etc. If it were merely convenient, we would do the same in our everyday, non-corporate-related lives. Instead, the corporations’ use of this syntax is aesthetically preferable, on an unconscious level, because it reflects the clumsy, animatronic, fascist quality of a modern corporation. I.e., it yells out at you boldly and forcibly, in clear robotese. 

This effect can also be noticed in automated customer service phone calls, in which the person, who is clearly a person, records the automated responses in a deliberately lifeless, mechanical manner. God forbid we have some intonation or personality in a computer-governed service. I use the term “service” loosely here, of course. I’m not sure it’s lost on anyone the scarily postmodernistic bent there is to calling a corporation or government agency you get a vital service from, only to be given the run-around by a computer system directing your interaction, because employing actual people would have cost them extra.

I once actually heard the automated system for Virgin Mobile give sass back about the user trying their damnedest to get ahold of a real person, superciliously suggesting that they give the automated service another chance, the subtext being that there’s no chance in hell that they’re ever going to speak to a human operator. (I had originally appreciated Virgin Mobile for having an automated service that actually had some personality, but I guess I found out that such an oddity is a double-edged sword in today’s world.)

The same effect, where real, breathing people with heartbeats speak in a manner excavated of all signs of real life, can be seen in the phenomenon of newscasting. Would it be so disastrous if we associated the thirteenth shooting of an innocent child we’ve heard about this week with some form of emotion? Apparently, they think so. 

But now we’re edging toward another effect altogether: the need to appear perfect. And not perfect in the positive sense, where you have an overwhelming amount of genuinely uplifting virtue, but perfect in the negative sense, where you subtract all that may appear flawed. This is sometimes demonstrated even more so, or at least more awkwardly, in the intonation given by people speaking for commercials and infomercials. On the face if it, it may sound as if they’re merely the connoisseurs of diction, but if you really look deeply into it, they use intonations that no real human would ever use for any natural reason. This must mean that, rather than being the epitome of any real perfection, they are the epitome of some particular trait that we very highly esteem, which is likely for some ultimately pathological reason.

A little more generally, personas that are caricatures of certain humans traits (such as evil or avarice in its various forms, or acting toward likability), which are totally absurd in their totalities, seem to pass under our anomaly-detecting radar. This was much more true in past decades, as can be witnessed via the cringe factor of old movies. I don’t think this effect is totally relative, in that I don’t think it will or can always be the case that people in future decades will see movies made in previous decades as cringy. I think our society is moving more and more toward authenticity, which is why the affectation, putting on airs, and general unrealism of past movies seem cringy to us. This pattern can only perpetuate so far into the future before we approach 100% authenticity. But I guess we’re talking about a totally separate subject now, because this essay is about things that progress toward postmodernism, and this is about something that decreases over time. But, to be honest, I think all of the effects I’ve touched on above will eventually be seen as hokey by future generations.

Getting back to the subject, though, what reminded me of the whole thing is this: in a list of ’15 Deadly But Often-Made Resume Blunders to Avoid’, number 5 is “Use of personal pronouns.”  Now, if that doesn’t portray the silliness of the whole situation I don’t know what does. Whom is your resume about, anyway? Presumably you, right? Yet you’re not allowed to talk overtly about yourself—only indirectly? It’s like, “let’s just make life as impersonal as possible, because, after all, this is business.”

But I won’t cry for yesterday,
There’s an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find,
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive.

On the Meanings of Words

The meaning of a word is not its definition. If it were, you’d have an infinite regress of definition. You couldn’t know what word A means without knowing what words B, C, D, E, etc. mean where B, C, D, E are words used in its definition, you couldn’t know what B means without knowing what F, G, H, I mean where F, G, H and I are words in B’s definition, ad infinitum.

In actuality, any dictionary is ultimately circular: if you recursively trace the definition of a word long enough, eventually you’ll get nothing but loops of definitional dependency of varying sizes. This has to be the case; the only other possibilities are (a) there are some words in the dictionary which are undefined (so if this were one’s mind we were talking about that the definitions were contained in, the meanings of those words would be unknown, and so would all the meanings of the words whose definitions ultimately depend on those words, and what good would that be?), and (b) all definitions of words in a dictionary are in the form of a tree, where if you get to the bottom of it there’s a (possibly small) set of undefined words that all other words ultimately depend on (this is actually a special case of possibility a).

The same logic, of course, also applies if the definitions were in one’s mind instead of in a dictionary, in order for one to understand linguistic constructions in general. In the case that the definitions are circular, no meaning would ultimately rest on anything; all meaning would just be strings of text; you wouldn’t be able to understand anything any better than an alien, upon reading an entire English dictionary, would understand all of its words. (The alien wouldn’t be helped any more if some of the words in the dictionary were left undefined.)

Yes, if a linguist were given a dictionary from an ancient lost language, he might be able to “break the code” like they have done with other kinds of texts from lost languages (one would assume a dictionary would be even easier), but that relies on a lot of shared experience or references between the users of the ancient language and the linguist, afforded by the mere fact of their both being the same kinds of beings who live or lived on the same planet with many psychological, cultural and physical-environmental things in common. For words’ meanings to be comprised of their definitions, all of that shared meaning would have to exist in the dictionary itself.

There are some exceptions, in that some words’ meanings are no more or less than their definitions. These are highly technical jargon words, and even their meanings ultimately rest upon meaning outside of definition as far as recursively tracing the definitions goes. Also, even among normal, mundane words, some are more readily defined than others, perhaps even coming close to being defined as accurately as jargon definitions in some cases. Note that to clearly and accurately define a word is not necessarily to define it in concrete terms that allow for clear technical analysis or unambiguous classification, for example, when classifying whether something is “art” based on some particularly astute, yet abstract, definition of the word art. Sometimes a perfectly accurate or astute definition of a word is in abstract and potentially ambiguous terms, because the actual meaning of the word is precisely as abstract and potentially ambiguous as the definition is, as many ideas are.

Defining a word is far from being a straightforward thing. It’s actually a talent and an art, and the resultant definition is only an approximation of its meaning. The actual meaning of a word (insofar as there is an “actual meaning”) is actually deeply tied in with profound truths about mind/psychology, culture, and even the nature of existence. To truly effectively define a word, in many cases, would best be done by someone well-versed in psychology, philosophy, etc., in order to really intuit the deeper meanings and nuances of the word. Really, though, more important than his/her education is that the person defining is unusually astute at understanding the deep nature of things, particularly regarding the contents of people’s minds and the words used to express them. The reason this is the case is explained later in this essay where I talk about memetics vis a vis the development words. I’ve seen many dictionary definitions of words that are wholly inadequate failures at truly capturing the essences of those words, because they’re hard things to pin down.

Another part of making a better dictionary that would be better would be to define words in a much more informal way, sort of in the way you would describe any other object, as opposed to the forced form of more or less requiring that the definition be strictly substitutable for the word itself in a sentence. The definitions should also be less brief. Each word could have a short essay talking all about it. This would be invaluable for people trying to truly master a foreign language, and it would be interesting for language enthusiasts. They also absolutely should contain multiple hand-picked examples of usage including sufficient context. That would go a long way toward conferring the nuances of words’ meanings and the ways in which the (currently crude) definitions were actually intended to be interpreted.

I have seen some words defined with multiple paragraphs in an unabridged or college Merriam Webster dictionary, but only in cases where there are multiple related words that are almost similar in meaning and the purpose of the elaboration was to differentiate between the multiple words.

While you’re writing paragraphs you may as well include comprehensive etymologies for the words. It would be like an encyclopedia but for words. It would probably best be implemented as a wiki, so that potential good insights can come from a wide base of people.

Another good thing to denote in any word would be the difference between senses that are true to the word’s origin or at least the word’s “real” meaning, as opposed to popular usages that arose out of ignorance, misconception or misinterpretation of the word’s meaning, but that are nonetheless included in the word’s definition because of the philosophy that a dictionary’s job is to reflect common usage rather than to prescribe it. It is commonly argued that language evolves, and hence any new or alternative interpretation/use of a word is just as valid as what the purists say is the “correct” definition, but there is a distinct difference between interpretations/usages of a word that are born of ignorance and stupidity and misunderstanding and interpretations/usages that legitimately evolve for other reasons.

An example is the word “literally.” The millennials’ misuse of the term is obviously just due to carelessness about the analytic/structural/technical meaning of the word, while apprehending an aspect of its emotive content and using it fully for that purpose. More specifically, emphasis is one of the common motivations for using the term “literally,” but if one cares about the more technical level of its meaning at all, it also must imply actuality as opposed to figurativeness. Using it solely for emphasis is simply being careless and stupid, in a contagious way (*hears ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ playing in my head*). It even frequently results in the word being used in the exact opposite way in which it’s intended. That is, because people often use exaggeration for emphasis, and millennials use “literally” for emphasis, “literally” is often used to qualify exaggerated or figurative claims (whereas the correct usage would be used exactly to denote that the claim is not exaggerated or figurative). It’s especially ironic for a word to mean a thing and its opposite when that word is particularly used for the purpose of clarity. And btw, I did hear a rumor that the new usage of the word “literally” is actually included as a sense in at least one dictionary.

Even if one believes that language purism is not necessary, it would be good to denote the difference between legitimate and illegitimate senses of a word just for those people who happen to be interested in it due to being language purists, or just due to not wanting to look stupid when speaking to intelligent people who actually understand the original meanings and common misinterpretations of words.

Another interesting area to explore (or to attempt to explore) in elaborate descriptions of words would be the relationship between the aesthetic of a word (in its appearance or sound) and its meaning. I think people don’t realize or underappreciate just how much the composition of a word corresponds to its meaning in deep and hard to fathom ways. This goes way beyond what we typically classify as onomatopoeia; it applies to all words. It’s just “logical” (for some definition of “logic”) to separate many things and consider them independent by default, such as separating the composition of a word and its meaning, but this is a common flaw in contemporary thought. Or even if not, in this particular case it’s short-sighted.

The reason the sound or look of a word corresponds to its meaning in some deep way is that words are memetic. A word becomes a word when it gains popularity over other possible words to mean the same thing, and one factor determining how much popularity the word gains is how much its sound “makes sense” or feels natural/ergonomic or (to some degree) obvious given what it stands for. One aspect of this is the word’s relationship to all other words in the language, such as phonetical similarities and common word stems, but there are many, many other factors to what makes a word feel natural that all come together in a holistic way. Many of these factors are embedded deeply in the psyche, which is in turn embedded deeply in the natures of biology, psychology, culture, and the cosmos at large. This is why I said earlier that to truly understand and define well the meaning of a word would require deep understanding of mind, etc.

Aesthetics is a very mysterious and intractable field of study, because to truly understand it (and in this case, you can’t understand it much at all without truly/deeply understanding it, because no obvious superficial or scientistic explanations fit the bill) would imply profoundly understanding the underpinnings and elements of human nature (which is a fascinatingly deep and ill-understood subject in itself), as well as—by virtue of the fact that we’re all inextricably linked to and embedded in the greater reality we’re a part of—the cosmos at large. This includes spirituality, the soul, mysticism, God, metaphysics, aesthetics, and everything else. (Though I know many will outright reject that last claim; the argument for it should probably be a subject for another essay.) The reason I mention this is that the process by potential which words for things organically come into being and are selected from by the group—that is, the memetics of it—is wholly aesthetic if nothing else. 

As one example of how the aesthetics of a word corresponds to its meaning, an example that may or may not be atypical in some way, consider the word “poop.” The lip movements that make the “p” sound correspond to the opening of the sphincter, the following “oo” sound corresponds to the poop sliding out of the sphincter while it’s open (note that to make an “oo” sound your mouth is open in a relatively round formation), and that’s followed by another “p” sound corresponding to the closing of the sphincter. The closing and opening of the sphincter are inversely symmetrical with the expulsion in the middle, and correspondingly the word “poop” is palindromic. Additionally, the appearance of the letters “oo” in the word is abstractly similar to that of butt cheeks. (Sorry for picking such an unsavory word for description, it’s just that it’s the only aesthetics-meaning relationship for a word that I know of off the top of my head. I heard it from a passionately naturalist philosopher, who is now deceased, killed by his brother, in IRC many years ago.)

Of course, none of the facts described above, such as the audial-related vs. the visual-related components, are in competition with each other as possible reasons for the word’s popularity, since they all (and likely many more) work together to contribute to its popularity in a holistic way. This same principle applies to all organic things, such as the human body for example: an organ, hormone or other chemical, or what-have-you can serve many purposes at once, the multiple purposes of all those parts working in intimately interlocking ways.