On metonyms

by Suspended Reason

Suspended: Do you think it’s fair to say that signs & symbols are just cultural technologies built atop metonymic inference muscle?

Crispy: Couldn’t have put it better myself. Metonymy seems to be this very basic pattern that’s used everywhere but has a lot of aspects that can be studies in generality, I want to dig into it more. Also, surrogation is a result of a very salient aspect of metonymy: information lossyness.

Suspended: Right, there’s natural informational lossyness—edgecases, exceptions, etc that aren’t covered, or are mis-represented.” But most (many?) metonyms are at least reasonable heuristics to begin with, tailored to an environment (statistical distribution of happenings). When you have adversarial players though, they are incentivized to decouple the relationship. It’d be interesting to think through the relevant superset—cases where signifiers and -ieds drift naturally apart, or else are strategically decoupled.

How do we know a man is married? We look at the ring on his finger.

Darwin Ortiz, Strong Magic:

In the heyday of the big con in this country, professional con men would often meet some wealthy businessman and, within a couple of hours, succeed in convincing him, without any collateral, to turn over large sums of money to them. These well educated and highly intelligent businessmen were willing to put their trust in complete strangers in large part because the con men were able to convince their victims, purely through their dress, grooming, and demeanor, that they were the same type of men as themselves and therefor trustworthy. These con men know that all of us draw firm conclusions about others based purely on what we see.

How do we know someone is rich? It isn’t by auditing their net worth.

Sarah Perry, Cargographic Compression”:

This is where maps (and trails) come in. Maps are compressions of the aboutness-extraction type. They represent and highlight certain features of the domain, forming a useful model, and ignore or downplay others… Language itself acts as a store of information, shared among minds, and language tends toward compression. As stories and concepts are shared, they become more compressed, until they reach the final stage: a metonym, a single word that represents a story or concept that conversation partners are expected to understand. A word is the ultimate tl:dr for human communication

The hermeneutic circle goes: Understanding of whole influences understanding of part influences (new) understanding of whole influences understanding of (next) part. As you read a book, you meet people, navigate new cultures, learn biology.

In other words, cues shape our framing of a situation; our framing shapes our reading of the cues. Gary Klein:

That became part of our model—the question of how people with experience build up a repertoire of patterns so that they can immediately identify, classify, and categorize situations, and have a rapid impulse about what to do. Not just what to do, but they’re framing the situation, and their frame is telling them what are the important cues. That’s why they’re always looking, or usually looking, in the right place. They know what to ignore, and what they have to watch carefully.

Thus does Damozel, praising Jacob Clifton’s television writing at Flatland Almanack, proclaim that Clifton

has that one thing you have to be born with if you’re going to have it at all: the writer’s gift for discerning the telling detail, the defining phrase.