[lit-ideas] Re: Wittgenstein's Plant

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 5 Mar 2014 13:29:51 -0500 (EST)

As Grice notes, an artificial flower is not a flower. But to keep using  
scare quotes EVERY TIME (artificial 'flower') violates one of his 
conversational  maxims ('do not use scare quotes').
On the other hand, a dead plant is a plant. Is a plant. 
We are discussing Wittgenstein's (or Witters's, as Austin prefers)  
gardening abilities. R. Paul quotes a delightful quote from N. Malcolm,
"[...] You know nothing about plants."
Geary wonders
In a message dated 3/5/2014 1:13:48 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
jejunejesuit.geary2@xxxxxxxxx writes:
Yes, but was Witters referring to spies  or to buildings where things are 
manufactured?  Makes a big  difference.  That's why I hate philosophy, it's 
so  demanding.

Indeed, we may have here a case of 'aequi-vocation', as Grice  calls it 
("Be reminded that 'aequi-' means 'equal' in Latin):
For Witters may have meant that Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm knew nothing about  
different stuff.
-- and perhaps implicating that HE did.
The word 'plant' has been used in English for some time. Back in the day of 
 the Oxford English Dictionary, we would know that. Nowadays, what passes 
for the  OED is a "New English Dictionary", and earliest Anglo-Saxon records 
are not  given -- but there's the Toller/Bosworth's Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, 
also  published by Oxford University Press.
"plant" comes from Old English "plante", as used by King Alfred, to mean,  
a "young tree or shrub, herb newly planted".
But the root is Latin, "planta", a "sprout, shoot, cutting" (source of both 
 Spanish planta and French plante).
Cicero suggests that the word is perhaps derived from "plantare", "to drive 
 in with the feet, push into the ground with the feet" and thus metonymic 
for  "planta", the "sole of the foot".
Ultimately, it's a nasalized form of Indo-European *plat-, meaning "to  
spread, flat" (see "place" in English, which has the same root -- since surely  
most places are flat -- cfr. Noel Coward, "Very flat,  Norfolk").  
Now, Witters could be using the expression in the broader usage to  apply 
to "any vegetable life, vegetation generally".
This is first recorded  in 1553, and knowing that Witters liked an  
archaism, it may well be what he meant (or implicated). 
Most extended usages are, as Geary implies, from the verb, on the  notion 
of "something planted;" e.g. "construction for an industrial process". 
This was first used in 1789, at first with reference to the set-up of  
machinery, in later years also the building.
As Geary notes, it can also mean, in slang, "a spy" (First used in this  
metaphorical usage in 1812). 
Many of these follow similar developments in the French form of the word. 
Incidentally German "Pflanz," (which is what Witters possibly had in his  
German-spoken mind) and, for that matter, Irish "cland", and Welsh  "plant" 
are from Latin. 
In any case, it seems exaggerated on Witters' part to assume that Mr. and  
Mrs Malcolm knew _nothing_ about plants. What he meant is that he was a  spy?
"In his rooms at Trinity [Wittgenstein] kept a small, potted flowering  
plant.  When he left Cambridge between terms to go to Wales, he left the  plant 
at our house. I am afraid that we were negligent, sometimes leaving the  
plant too near an electric heater. It began to look sickly and the leaves and  
buds gradually dropped off. When Wittgenstein came back to Cambridge I 
returned  the plant to his rooms, although it was then quite dead. A few days 
later he and  my wife had a chance meeting on the street, the first since his 
departure for  Wales six weeks previously. Without any greeting he said 
severely: ‘I see that  you know nothing about plants!’ and walked off without 
another word."

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