“The individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names. In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.” — St. Augustine
I won’t lose much time with the picture theory of language above. It’s wrong. Language, be it words, sentences, or paragraphs are just expression of felt senses. They’re just pointers. Reality is this unitary ‘sum of all things’ it and language just serves as pointers pointing to a particular aspect of reality. Of course this aspect doesn’t exist by itself but exists only because an epistemic agent picks it out from the rest, distinguishes it from the rest, as meaningful for him, and then as meaningful for others, via language.
Ok, cool, so that’s done. The theory above isn’t precisely wrong, it’s just incomplete. It is a good description of technical languages. In technical languages a lot of work is done to make sure that each word or symbol has a matching concept, and no more than one matching concept. Lexical clarity. A lot of work is done to make sure the right, or most useful for the current tasks, concepts are picked out. Conceptual clarity. But the point is that this takes work, to do and to maintain. It is not the default state.
Next, use-mention distinction. Quoting wikipedia:
“The use–mention distinction is a foundational concept of analytic philosophy, according to which it is necessary to make a distinction between using a word (or phrase) and mentioning it, and many philosophical works have been “vitiated by a failure to distinguish use and mention”.
The distinction between use and mention can be illustrated for the word cheese:
Use: Cheese is derived from milk.
Mention: ‘Cheese’ is derived from the Old English word ċēse.
People fuck this up all over. It is hard to read the symbol as merely a meaningless pointer and so people don’t. Call the cake you’re selling ’The Best Cake In The World’ and people will let the meaning slip inside their minds. ‘But is it the best cake in the world?’ The question is there so they won and you lost. It’s the same as if the cake was called ‘sponge cake’ or ‘chocolate cake’ or ‘Anne’ or ‘Joe’. The name of the cake does not necessarily give you any info about the taste, the components, or anything really, about the cake. You can call your pet rose ‘Cake’, and nothing of substance would change. A flower by any other name, except beat this into your head because you’re getting screwed.”
Now, arbitrage. Wikipedia:
“In economics and finance, arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices. When used by academics, an arbitrage is a (imagined, hypothetical, thought experiment) transaction that involves no negative cash flow at any probabilistic or temporal state and a positive cash flow in at least one state; in simple terms, it is the possibility of a risk-free profit after transaction costs. For example, an arbitrage opportunity is present when there is the opportunity to instantaneously buy something for a low price and sell it for a higher price.”
Basically if a guy is buying something for 10 quid and another for 5 quid you can get yourself in the middle and make 5 quid. If someone incorrectly thinks that the name of a thing changes the thing you can get yourself in the middle and exploit that.
“A word’s denotation is our conscious definition of it. You can think of this as the set of things in the world with membership in the category defined by that word; or as a set of rules defining such a set. (Logicians call the former the category’s extension into the world.)
A word’s connotation can mean the emotional coloring of the word. AI geeks may think of it as a set of pairs, of other concepts that get activated or inhibited by that word, and the changes to the odds of recalling each of those concepts.”
Ok finally, sorry about all the necessary concepts.
Now that we have those we can see what is happening: arbitrageurs that don’t have your best interest at heart use the use-mention distinction to slide in meaning via connotation.
“Trump is a literal fascist” cannot be read denotatively with a straight face, it is meant to be read as “Trump is a Literal Fascist” or as “Trump is a ‘Literal Fascist’”, where “’Literal Fascist’” here is a name. Like “The Best Cake” or “Joe” or “Anne”.
Autistic nerds will discuss whether he is a literal fascist by looking up the definition of fascism, the history of fascist regimes, and entirely miss the point. The point is that the idea is sitting on your mind and it gives people excuse to coordinate. It’s a coordination-beacon. “Let us tell this literally but passable lie and in doing so together give each other an honest signal that we’re willing to coordinate against this person”.
Of course this gets used all over leading to semantic hyperinflation. A word gets used as a coordination-beacon in more and more cases to send subterranean messages and its meaning inflates to the point of meaninglessness (‘rational’, ‘nazi’).
Nerds get adequately confused.
How long has this been happening for and how long have nerds been confused by this? Well…
“A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.” — Confucius, 551 B.C. – 479 B.C
P.S. Not even 2 h after I posted this: here. A UN resolution called “combatting the glorification of Nazism”. US voted against. Does that mean the US is PRO- the glorification of Nazism!?!??!?!??!?! IT’S JUST A NAME, IGNORE THE NAME, SEE THE CONTENT, THIS IS HOW THEY’RE OWNING YOU. No one gets owned this way you say? Then why not call it resolution 4830? Exactly.
*Of course this just goes on and on. ‘Racist’ (a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others) is really a ‘you’re bad and we’re now coordinating against you’ call to coordination. Of course once people get wise to the trick the thing moves. Now racism is ‘experiencing systematic oppresion’. Like a political-language-for-coordination arms race. And of course, this.