the problem with polysemy

4 08 2004

“a smallish number of words in a lexicon can express infinite meanings because individual words can differentiate and accumulate new senses”ā€””a lexical entity ‘is only the possibility of a word'” which can always be as correctly defined & understood through many different possibilities, and  while “context allows us to narrow down the meanings in a given case,” this narrowing only goes so far.  it’s an asymptote.  there’s no arrival.
(for the other nerds out there; in the strictest sense, the relevant academic definitions are as follows:
a polyseme is a word with multiple, seemingly-unrelated modern meanings, all of which come from the same etymology; homonyms, contrastively, are spelled the same in modern usage, but have different meanings from totally separate etymologies.  (so in dictionaries, all the polysemes are listed under one heading, while the homonyms are listed as separate words.))

any lexical entity–and so every lexical entity (that’s geekspeak for “word,” as a specific collection of letters/sounds) is only the possibility of a word (where “word” includes denotation–where “tree” isn’t just four letters in a particular order but includes the picture in your head that appears when you see it).  the tree you see, no matter how carefully you describe it to me using other words which are themselves each only, as i hear & interpret them, possibilities that may or may not bear much resemblance to what you meant when you selected them, will never be the tree i see.

yes, this is why we never fscking understand each other.  yes, this is why you (we) want to forget words entirely & live in the gestault & you (we) probably want to brain me half the time for the botched word-strings i make that you then have to try to untangle that you know full well you can’t get right.  & yes, this is why it’s possible for one of us to say “no” & mean “not now,” & for the other one to hear “never,” & for the two of us then to base our every choice & action for the twelve years that followed after the mispronunciation or mishearing of that one word on what was essentially, despite that being nobody’s intention, a lie.

look, mom, i’m using my rhetoric homework as a lens for shining yet another damningly bright light on the hopeless mess of interpersonal communication!

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13 responses

4 08 2004
reedrover

Absolutely right, but. Wow.
Was this prompted by something specific? (base our every choice & action for the twelve years that followed)

4 08 2004
tyra

isn’t it always?
“yes” is all you’re getting for now, mkay?

4 08 2004
reedrover

Grin

4 08 2004
cheshirrrecat

but see, the Beauty and Magic of it all is how we still Communicate and Understand each other, even in the face of all that ambiguity. the ways we Feel what the other person is saying, and how we Know what they mean, regardless of different definitions or perceptions. if we all get outside our own damn heads for a minute to do so.
youre dissecting too much. youre too close to the picture. youre losing Realness to rhetoric.
whatever miscommunications and misunderstandings were created by language and all its intricacies, can also be undone and cleared up with that same language. its all about Time, and Patience, and Listening.
Love you, grrl.

5 08 2004
tyra

the haunting part is looking at all the ripples.
what was mis-said & mis-heard changed the course of everything, & there’s no way to go back & do it *right,* where “right” is an imaginary word standing less for “correct” & more for “with actual, pertinent information to base choices on instead of outright untruth”…
>sigh<
as my handy & much-beloved handful of sages spent all day yesterday patiently reminding me, i can’t undo it, i can’t go back, & i can’t change all of the choices that were based on the implications & after-effects of what should never have happened in the first place. & if i could, it would cost me all i’ve gained, & all i’ve loved, & the love is real, even if its basis was built on shifting sand, & i don’t want that. i just know that knowing is going to change things. it’s not about working to understand anymore. we finally fscking got THERE. instead, it’s about working to understand what knowing now that all this time we were working with lies means about the present, about the future, & about what our past actions–the ones we can’t change anyway, but can always come closer to understanding–meant, & would have meant, if we’d known.
every moment is a watershed.
finding this one shouldn’t shatter me.
i’ve been reminded. the 3 wise men say:
“what you have now is a chance to go forward with this friendship knowing the truth. & most people never get that. it’s a great gift. quit worrying about the past you can’t change & take advantage of that.”
“it’s what you’ve done with what you thought you knew that matters, not whether or not it was true. say an old lady hands a starving child a sandwich, & it keeps him alive another day, & the next day his luck changes & he lives to have a wonderful life: it doesn’t matter whether the old lady did it b/c jesus told her to or b/c she believed it would please the aliens watching over her, & it doesn’t matter if there is a jesus or there are any aliens: what matters is that she gave him the sandwich.”
“let it go. build a bridge. you made the best decisions you could with the information you had, and that’s all anyone can ever do. do the same from here on out with the new information. anyway, i’m glad all of that happened. i’m glad you went through it, i’m glad you made the choices you did. because otherwise you wouldn’t be the beautiful person you are now, and i wouldn’t get to know you.”
i love my wise men.
& i love you, too.
next time i’m home (or if i get really annoyed at everybody in florida & decide it would be a good recreational activity to run up ‘s phone bill even MORE than the astronomical figure he quoted at me yesterday, which is almost entirely my fault) i’ll call you & tell you more about it than you ever wanted to know. *hug*

4 08 2004
pictsy

It doesn’t even take multiple meanings of one word– people misunderstand things all the time anyway. The other day my coworker and I were doing a grueling session of data verification, and we were both hungry, so she asked me if I would like to go to lunch or if I’d like to finish. I said, “Yeah, it can wait,” meaning that the data could wait and we should go to lunch, but she thought I meant that lunch could wait and we should finish. So we finished the data first. This happens all the time; I should be more specific about what I mean.
Then there was the time (wow, seven years ago) when I broke a certain guy’s heart because I called him up to ask him out, but I thought he blew me off so I started dating someone else instead. I found out later that he was just tired and he didn’t mean to sound dismissive. Ack.

4 08 2004
west_wind

I love when you write about stuff like this. Right when I’m feeling all pissed off at communication I get to read someone who is also pissed off at communication but who writes about it in such a way as to make me want to read about it. Of course, cheshirrrecat makes a pretty good point, too. Anyway, thanks for sounding off and shining a bit of your light. It helps me out when I’m feeling gloomy.

4 08 2004
susanmarie

Like, “rhetoric.” A fabulous example of polysemy.
What about polyamorous polysemy? Would that be like polymorphous perversity? Or polyester propensities?

4 08 2004
tyra

you fucking ROCK.
& thank you so much for going there.
b/c i really had expected a lot of these other darlings to try it, & they were so busy being nice and taking my angst seriously (which, of course, i do appreciate) that they entirely missed the perversity potential. šŸ™‚
“rhetoric” is a dead term, far’s i’m concerned. except for how it’s always the label for everything. kinda like general mills.

4 08 2004
susanmarie

Re: you fucking ROCK.
Yeah. I find it useful, when properly contextualized and well explained, but I ain’t wedded to it. Which is why I’m surprised by folks who are. Well, not live folks, ones I’ve actually met, but the ones I read. *You* know. Ultimately a concept like “literacy” seems more interesting.
So why am I doing rhetoric? I guess because it allows me to navigate the terrain between literature and theatre and cultural studies. And in cultural rhetoric, they let me talk about real folks, instead of always focusing on texts.
Ms J says it’s bedtime. Night night.

5 08 2004
tirgat

To (mis)quote the bard
A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. But then again was that a red, yellow, tudor, classic, wild, blue, green, candy-cane, yada yada yada…..
And we wonder why failure to communicate is the reason for most failed relationships…..
So in frustration I can only say Pants!
I lack the patience to to expound in the beauteous style you do love, so am forced to just curse archaicly.

5 08 2004
tyra

Re: To (mis)quote the bard
i think “pants” is a PERFECT answer.
šŸ™‚
(& it’s not really that archaic, actually; i have a british friend who’s entirely not associated w/ANY forms of creative anachronism who cries “pants!” when things are awry fairly often…)
just to be contrary, though, you know those roses DO all smell different. & some of ’em are downright smelly.

5 08 2004
tirgat

Thank you
Not to mention on the roses the different connotations they each bring to mind. Is the smell of the war of the roses as sweet as the smell of the lovers gift? The wild rose overgrowing the workshop smelling as the flowers at the wake? But this just over-redundantly emphasises your point. (sort of like the phrase over redundantly ~g~)
Hoping not to smell like certain roses, wishing I came up smelling like others, going to trim the rosebushes outside……KTG

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