atw: Re: Lewis's Laws of Linguistic Laxity (was Another usage question)

  • From: Michael Lewis <mlewis@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <austechwriter@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 16 Jun 2017 21:27:22 +1000

Yes. First, that elusive word "on the tip of the tongue" does look like a counter-example, but in general we are aware of the problem and willing to say so - "Bother. It's on the tip of my tongue . . ." I think that counts as a temporary failure in the recall mechanism rather than a case of atrophied linguistic skill.

Second, the more complex problem that you describe is really the exact opposite of atrophy; we are aware of the problem, and we work at solving it rather than not caring, and saying (or writing) something that doesn't communicate effectively.

- Michael

On 16/06/2017 21:02, Howard Silcock wrote:

Thanks, Michael. A good summary. I think number three is interesting, because we all know that experience of not being able to put something into words, but we probably also have the experience of having so much more power when we finally succeed. And it can be hard work!



On 16 June 2017 at 18:15, Michael Lewis <mlewis@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx <mailto:mlewis@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>> wrote:


    There are indeed three.

    1 (The law of linguistic entropy): Language broadens to occupy the
    space vacated by the receding intellect. That is, language is used
    sloppily because of sloppy thinking.

    2 (The law of linguistic apathy): Language is capable of surgical
    precision, but most people use it like a blunt axe. That is,
    language is used sloppily because its users can't be bothered.

    3 (The law of linguistic atrophy, which you already have): If you
    can't say what you mean, you probably don't know what you mean.
    That is, language is used sloppily because its users have stopped
    thinking and caring. When someone says - in response to being
    misunderstood - "You know what I mean", it's appropriate to reply
    "Perhaps I do, but apparently you don't".

    I wrote a short paper on these some decades ago; I can probably
    lay my hands on a hard copy, but the soft copy appears to have
    gone to the Great Bit Bucket in the Sky.

    - Michael

    On 16/06/2017 06:57, Howard Silcock wrote:

        [For Michael] If there really are three Lewis's Laws (or
        more?), can you tell us about the others?

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