Form and Function Define

A rose — by any other name — is still a rose.

It may seem trivial, but words have meaning, and that meaning is not defined by the word.  The form and function — or essential nature —  of a thing is what actually defines it.  The word we assign to that thing is just a label we use to describe it.  This is what the word ‘definition’ means:

Definition of DEFINITION

2a : a statement expressing the essential nature of something

Now, this may seem obvious to most, but it isn’t as obvious as it should be.  Nor is it accepted as a hard and fast rule.  There are a growing number of people who sincerely believe that they can and actually do change something simply by calling it by another name.  The problem is that this line of reasoning is absurd.

We know this line of reasoning is absurd because the people who make such claims don’t even believe them, themselves.  If they did, they wouldn’t bother to say or write anything because they would know that no one would understand what they were saying because everyone would have their own personal definitions for the words they were using.  It would mean we live in a world of babel; a world where words can mean anything we want them to mean.  This would negate any ability to communicate through the written or spoken word.  It would also mean that the people who claim that the word defines a thing contradict themselves by the very act of making their claim.  That is a self-evident absurdity.  It is like saying you know you don’t exist because you know you don’t exist.  If you can think, you exist — period.

This brings us back to the fact that things are defined by their purpose and/or the characteristics of their nature.  The essence of a thing or idea can’t be altered or changed simply because we call it by another name.  If this were the case, then a dog would cease to be a dog the moment we stop using English and start speaking Spanish or French.  Did the essence of the dog change because the language we were using changed?  No!  A dog still has four legs, a tail, fur, barks, growls and sniffs the south end of other north-bound dogs, and so on…  It doesn’t matter what we call it or what language we use, its essence is still that of a dog.

Unfortunately, whether by mistake or on purpose, people often use the wrong words for the things they are discussing.  It doesn’t matter if it is by accident or on purpose, when we use the wrong words, or we do not understand what the words being used really mean, confusion is almost sure to result.  On the other hand, when we use the correct words, and we know what those words mean, we can usually avoid confusion.  In fact, if we know what words mean, it can help us figure out the truth of what is being discussed.  It can also help us detect when others are trying to deceive us.  If we suspect someone is using a word incorrectly, we can ask them to define it.  If they don’t the proper definition, we can correct them.  But if they do know the proper definition, and they have used the word incorrectly, then we have good reason to believe that person is trying to deceive us.

This is why we need to pay attention to the meaning of words.  The accurate use of language also helps us avoid being misunderstood.  It can also help us clarify a confused situation   By knowing what words mean, we can better understand what is being said, thus making it possible to draw better conclusions. Finally,  by knowing what words actually mean, we can spot when others are trying to deceive us by confusing the issue at hand.

38 responses to “Form and Function Define

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