RE: Humpty Dumpty

From: Adam, AKM (
Date: Wed Mar 18 1998 - 07:05:03 EST

Colleagues: Hatters, Mice, Knights, Puddings, Duchesses, and Alice--

One difficulty with C. S. Bartholomew and M. Olsen's recent posts--with
which I generally agree quite heartily--is that the semantic domain of
words is not itself a fixed entity. To raise a case in point: where I
grew up, if someone had said,

>I talked to my mother. She said I was right.
>I talked to my mother. He said I was right.

The latter would not seem so utterly impossible, since "mother" was not
infrequently used as the short form of a longer, more explicitly uncouth
term. Another, more polite, example comes from my sons' friend Win, who
is known at his school for introducing unexpected usages for familiar
words. He has started referring to anything agreeable as "feisty," and
he refers to disappointing news as "squeaky." And his classmates--as
classmates will--have begun adopting these locutions.

The point isn't that words don't mean anything, or that one can make
words mean anything one wants. It does help demonstrate, I think, that
usage tends to defeat theory, and that words don't give us a place to
anchor meaning. I *agree* with what Mari (and Jonathan) says about
"cancellability," "aspect," "lexis," and "pragmatics"; I simply try to
avoid locating the limits of semantic range or grammatical flexion *in
the words*, but instead situate the locus of meaning-making in
communities of language-users who share assumptions about usage (whether
those communities be scholars of Hellenistic Greek, neighborhood toughs
from Pittsburgh, or grade-school classes at Princeton Day School.

Now, I promise not to talk more about hermeneutics on B-Greek.

Grace and peace,
A K M Adam
Princeton Theological Seminary

"We do not have too much intellect and too little soul, but too little
intellect in matters of the soul."
Robert Musil

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