lexical query

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Sep 3 23:27:39 UTC 2007

On Sep 3, 2007, at 12:49 PM, Michael H Covarrubias wrote:

> It might have too specific a meaning in that a solution would
> become the very
> problem that it is trying to solve. And it doesn't necessarily mean
> a blessing
> or a curse. But how about enantiodromia? It's a nice word for any
> situation that
> becomes its opposite.

ah, this would be a still higher-level term than the one we're
looking for.

look, there's an issue here about what ordinary people (and
linguists, for that matter) mean by "a word for" X, or "a word that
refers to" X, or even "a word that means" X.  the usual understanding
of these expressions has to do with their *intensions*; "a word for
X" (etc.) tells you to look for the conditions that determine whether
or not something counts as an X.  when we look at *extensions*, we
see classes of things that include Xs but also other things (the
words are higher-level terms) and classes of things that include some
but not all Xs (the words are lower-level terms).  none of these
terms *mean* X; they merely have Xs within their extensions.

i was assuming this understanding as background.  in particular, i
was assuming that when non-linguists ask about "a word for" X, this
is what they have in mind, and i try to accommodate to their

on this understanding, "uncle" is not *a word for* a parent's
sibling; it merely denotes some siblings of parents (but not
others).  and "uncle" is is not *a word for* kin a generation above
you; it merely denotes a class of people all of whom are kin a
generation above you (plus some others who aren't uncles).  (please
don't write about a spouse of a parent's sibling.  that's just
another complicating factor.)

i didn't think this was arcane knowledge.  am i wrong?  if i am, i
don't see how i can talk about meaning on this group at all.


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