Truthiness morphing

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue May 8 16:26:47 UTC 2007

At 10:21 AM -0400 5/8/07, David Bowie wrote:
>I subscribe to several of the Woody's Office Watch family of email
>newsletters, and the past few "EMAIL Essentials" ones have dealt with
>spam filtering. Near the beginning of the latest one is the following:
>    You and I can glance at a message and know right-away if it's
>    spam or not. Computers are nowhere near as smart and probably
>    never will be, all a spam filter can do is analyse a message
>    and work out the likelihood that it is spam. It's not a simple
>    Yes/No but a sliding scale of (with apologies to Stephen
>    Colbert) 'spaminess'.
>I would have probably spelled it "spamminess" myself, but it's
>interesting to see "-iness" being used actively to mean something like
>"something like this noun, but not exactly like it" with an overt nod to
>the Colbert Report.
Reminding one (at least this one) of Haj Ross's "nouniness squish",
referring (in a 1973 paper) to the different extents to which a
particular constituent functions like a noun.  The idea then,
anticipating Colbert's truthiness and the recent spinoffs, was that
rather than a categorical binary distinction (either it's a noun or
it isn't), nouniness is a matter of degree.  Around the same time,
Ross's then co-conspirator George Lakoff was pushing the idea of
fuzzy propositional logic in which truth itself was a matter of
degree:  "a chicken is a bird" or "a penguin is a bird" was
considered to be less...well, truthy than "a robin is a bird".  (As I
recall, the term "birdiness" was used for such examples, by Lakoff
and/or Elinor (Heider) Rosch, whose work on prototypes Lakoff was
drawing on, but not "truthiness" itself.)

Lakoff (1972) "Hedges: A Study in Meaning Criteria and the Logic of
Fuzzy Concepts", CLS 8.
Ross (1973) "Nouniness", in Osamu Fujimora, _Three Dimensions of
Linguistic Research_


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