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ninjacolin's avatar

What do "Words" mean? (see details)

Asked by ninjacolin (14233points) February 2nd, 2010

The question is self-explanatory. Discuss. Go deep.

My first attempt:
The existence of words mean that the universe can recognize, command, and describe parts of itself to other parts of itself.


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29 Answers

josie's avatar

A word is a concrete representation, accepted by convention, for a concept, which is the abstract way that human beings hold their integrated perceptions. Your insight about the universe has been articulated by others, including the late Carl Sagan, who wondered if the human mind was a step in the process of the universe becoming able to recognize itself. Kind of a cool thought, especially if it turned out to be true.

Ruallreb8ters's avatar

I think words are an unessasary, primative form of communication

augustlan's avatar

Words allow human beings to fully communicate, which in turn allows us to understand one another and connect with one another.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Ruallreb8ters primitive compared to what?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

That is a potentially interesting question that was oddly posed.
If the OP is looking for more than the usual definitions, I can’t be sure for what they were hoping.

ninjacolin's avatar

Whatever comes to mind according to your definitions of the use and purpose and manifestation of words, doc! :)

Trillian's avatar

A word is a recognizable symbol. It conveys the meaning of the thing, but is not the thing itself. The word love for example. It has a generally accepted meaning, yet there are many types of love, and if you were to ske three epoepl what love means, you’d get three different answers.
The accepted meaning pronunciation, and even spelling of words change over time. Our language is fluid in that respect. And of course, language itself is a study in ambiguity.

This community is a great study on the ambiguity of meaning attributed to words and we can’t seem to agree about definitions even when someone (like me) copies and pastes directly from Websters. There are still those who insist,“Well this is what the word means to me!”
@ ninjacolin, I’d like for you to jump in here and give me some direction now. It’s your turn.

Army0f0n3's avatar

Specific sounds or a collection of specific symbols that we have come to claim have special meaning.

Ruallreb8ters's avatar

@ninjacolin speaking with mind and emotion, Its like why pick something up when you can use telekinesis

HTDC's avatar

@Ruallreb8ters It’s hard to put man on the moon with telekinesis…

absalom's avatar

Inadequate and composite representations of x that are for better or worse necessary.

ninjacolin's avatar

lol @Trillian as if i know what i’m talking about. but i do like the fact that you wrote:

“if you were to ske three epoepl what love means, you’d get three different answers.”

which i skimmed over not know what you meant until seconds later when i felt i understood your message without even having to sound the proper words out in my head.

hmm.. in fact i still haven’t.. oh wait.. i just did.. damn.. still that’s pretty cool.

it’s as if words, clearly distinguished, were to some extent unnecessary for my comprehending your meaning. maybe @Ruallreb8ters has some sort of point? but that’s still telepathy, not telekinesis.

Factotum's avatar

Words are the tools that allow us to retain our past and create our future. Plus they help us get laid.

ninjacolin's avatar

@absalom, linguistic representations, yea..
but consider: Language is a system for encoding and decoding information.
But what is a word? we’re using information to give information?
that’s like using houses to build houses. but we don’t use houses to build houses. we use tools and raw materials and.. oh, thanks @morphail, i’ll have a read..

Your_Majesty's avatar

Word is just a ‘thing’ human made to define something. It’s the same as material but appear in fiction way.

cbloom8's avatar

A word is a vessel in which ideas and concepts are stored.

the100thmonkey's avatar

Words mean nothing in isolation – they are not even symbols individually. They acquire meaning – both symbolic and functional – from the context in which they are used.

Words ‘mean’ (you mean ‘imply’?) that there are at least two beings able to negotiate and agree on what the marks/peculiar combination of sound waves represent.

Shuttle128's avatar

I see people have covered what words are pretty well. There have been several philosophers who claim that knowledge about the world only exists because of language. Without the necessary descriptive words to explain something it remains inexplicable.

I’ve been wondering what might happen if we moved towards a collective consciousness in the future. In a collective consciousness all people would experience each others’ thoughts. Would there still be a need for language? Could there be knowledge without language in this case?

If words are just representations of things in the world couldn’t there be non-linguistic representations of these things that might function equivalently?

Just my musings on the subject….

Barbs's avatar

We are comunicating in words now arent we. How can they be primitive?

Barbs's avatar

Words are a way of defining our actions, our beliefs, and our surroundings. They are essential for human understanding in fact they are the way that humans understand things on a complex level.

mattbrowne's avatar

A word is either a sequence of symbols/characters or phones.

It’s the smallest meaningful unit of speech that can stand by itself in a language, in contrast to a morpheme, which is the smallest unit of meaning.

See also

the100thmonkey's avatar

@mattbrowne: That is a parsimonious explanation, but perhaps it’s too parsimonious. The key is “meaningful” – what does it mean for a word to mean?

Factotum's avatar

Words stand in lieu of actual things or non-actual things and can be used to reify the non-actual such that one may invoke a god, pronounce a marriage, and speak a curse. The field of semiotics discusses the odd relationship between things and the symbols for things, in particular the slippage that occurs when we point to a globe and say, ‘that is the Earth’ or ‘here is Antarctica’.

mattbrowne's avatar

@morphail – Yes, I agree. There is no clear-cut way of defining words.

@the100thmonkey – Meaningful?

Here’s the problem:

‘Word’ itself is a word. The meaning of the word ‘meaning’ is what? We are talking about a fundamental philosophical problem here. And we are talking perceived reality, neuroscience and consciousness. How do babies learn language in the first place? Why is this even possible? How do we define the meaning of a word?

Suppose someone beams you into the Amazon rain forest and you encounter a native tribe who has never met another human being outside their tribe. You don’t know their language, and they don’t know your language. How do you communicate? Ah, pointing to this and that. Making signs with your hand. Making strange sounds. And so forth. You are making connections between objects and concept and abstract forms (sounds) i.e. words. Now explain to them the word parsimonious? You can’t. At least not initially. You need to build up more complete sets of simple objects and concepts. Your pools is growing slowly. You combine stuff from your pool and you get more complex objects and concepts and so worth.

Ultimately words refer to stuff you’re building up from scratch. Like talking to those natives. But you need an outside reality otherwise you can’t point to anything.

Barbs's avatar

I dont know Im iliterate!

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