A more honest way to argue for meanings of words

by Hazard

As the Chicken and the Reason often say, The meaning of words and language is whatever you can get people to agree to.” I think that’s importantly and fundamentally true. I also see some cucks out there who use such logic to claim that no-one can resist them trying to make words mean whatever they want in some discursive community.

The technical and specific jargon that CS people have developed to talk about data-structures is an incredibly useful resource. It’s an interpretive equilibrium that has taken a lot of work to arrive at which allows for a lot of dense compressed communication of very specific things in very useful ways to people working in the field. This shared vocab is a common good.

Sometimes I see people defending some use of a word, phrase, or bit-of-language, and it’s clear to me that they’re defending it because they see the current interpretive equilibrium as very useful. But sometimes this defense expresses itself as dude, that’s just what that word means!”

My guess is that the appeal of this rhetorical strategy involves a dash of philosophical simplicity, and more importantly it offers a route to offload one’s own personal desire to the Objective. It’s not that I and my peers care about this particular set of meanings, that’s just the way it is, there’s nothing to argue with dude! It’s reality! Get a dictionary bro.

There’s a frame a lot of people live in where personal desire, or appealing to the desire of specific people, is rhetorically invalid, and everything must be framed in terms of some higher Objective rightness” for action to be taken. I vaguely recall an anecdote of a university student who couldn’t get their personal complaints about a bad situation taken seriously until they re-framed it away from I don’t like this and this is harming me to As a women, this is a problem.” The university wasn’t capable of taking an actual person seriously, but they could take A Women TM seriously, because now responsibility for the desire has been shifted to a legibilized Objective form that the university has more advanced rhetorical structures to legitimate.

Often when interacting with bureaucracies and institutions, you won’t be able to dismantle their power in any short timescale, so sure, do whatever you gotta do to get the system to work for you. But don’t forget that you can also have conversations and arguments with people that aren’t entirely enmeshed in such structures, and don’t forgot that the honest and grounded-in-what-you-personally-care-about convos you have with your peers have a non-trivial effect on shaping the next generation of institutions.

The fact that meaning is what you can get away with” does not mean that everyone must let you get away with bullshit. It’s possible to say, No, fuck you, this word already has some structured specific meaning that my discursive-community has coordinated around, I and others get a lot of use out of it, and I am going to resist you trying to shift the interpretive equilibrium to one I think is worse.” It’s possible to hold that front without falling back to the philosophically sloppy stance of you can’t use the word differently because that’s not what it means.”