what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Draft Sceptic's Glossary

Incredibly warm for this time of the year here – 11C and a cloudless sky. 15 years or so ago the snow smothered the cars here. Strange that it is now the UK which is freezing! Is this the warming of the Gulf Stream?

Remember the little contest for the 50 books to form your library? The guy who set it has now given us his list.
I’m happy to report that you can now access the results of my last week’s musings on words at the latest paper Just Words? on my website . It is still very much at draft stage - but now able and needing to get feedback. So please read and tell me what you think.
I knew that there was an element of mere play in what I was doing with my definitions – for example suggesting that the word “capacity” so beloved of consultants could be interpreted simply as “something other people lack”! But – as many people have argued – play can liberate some powerful thoughts! And something very powerful has been driving this latest venture forward – at one stage I lost control of the process and began (very correctly) to question what I was trying to do. Was this just an exercise in superficial cynicism? Or was it a more profound exercise in scepticism?
Yesterday I suddenly remembered that I had a copy on my shelves here (as distinct from my real library at Sirnea) of A Doubter’s Companion – a dictionary of aggressive common sense produced in 1994 by the genius who wrote Voltaire’s Bastards – the dictatorshop of reason in the west, one of the really profound critiques of soi-disant expertise.

It’s a French edition I had picked up at a second-hand sale in Brussels and is not quite in the style I am trying to create for my glossary but it did remind me of the
 “humanist tradition of using alphabetical order as a tool of social analysis and the dictionary as a quest for understanding, a weapon against idée recues (Flaubert actually issued a Dictionnaire des Idees recues in 1880) and the pretensions of power”. 
Saul contrasts this approach with that
“of the rationalists to the dictionary for whom it is a repository of truths and a tool to control communications”. 
This crystallised my thinking! Which is why I gave the draft its subtletly and ambiguous title – Just words? “Just” means both “merely” and “fair”!! And the subtitle “reclaiming the language” has, for me shades of the Greenock poet WS Graham.

Three powerful forces have created verbal gymnastics which need to be exposed –
- first the need of governments to avoid admission of failure – better to imply a new condition had arisen by inventing a new phrase!
- the professional interests which surround each new definition.
- The last decade or so has seen a third force - governments have fallen even further into the hands of spin doctors and corporate interests and a powerful new verbal smokescreen has arisen to try to conceal this.

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