Friday, April 29, 2016



J.L. Austin (1911–1960), "A Plea for Excuses," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 57 (1956-1957) 1-30 (at 7-8):
First, words are our tools, and, as a minimum, we should use clean tools: we should know what we mean and what we do not, and we must forearm ourselves against the traps that language sets us. Secondly, words are not (except in their own little corner) facts or things: we need therefore to prise them off the world, to hold them apart from and against it, so that we can realise their inadequacies and arbitrarinesses, and can re-look at the world without blinkers. Thirdly, and more hopefully, our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found worth marking, in the lifetimes of many generations: these surely are likely to be more numerous, more sound, since they have stood up to the long test of the survival of the fittest, and more subtle, at least in all ordinary and reasonably practical matters, than any that you or I are likely to think up in our armchairs of an afternoon—the most favoured alternative method.
Id., pp. 27-28:
[A] word never—well, hardly ever—shakes off its etymology and its formation. In spite of all changes in and extensions of and additions to its meanings, and indeed rather pervading and governing these, there will still persist the old idea. In an accident something befalls: by mistake you take the wrong one: in error you stray: when you act deliberately you act after weighing it up (not after thinking out ways and means). It is worth asking ourselves whether we know the etymology of "result" or of "spontaneously", and worth remembering that "unwillingly" and "involuntarily" come from very different sources.

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