Sunday, March 07, 2010

Words don't mean....

The appropriately beautiful or ugly sound of any word is an illusion wrought on us by what the word connotes.
-Max Beerbohm, writer, critic, and caricaturist (1872-1956)

I might have said, "by how we have experience the word in use." As I understand it, words don't actually "connote," any more than they "mean." Instead, we encounter words as used by people in our environment, we observe the effect of the word on those around us, construct a meaning, and and we go on to apply the word in situations we believe similar to the original experience. Thus a given word may strike one person as beautiful and another as ugly, due not to the dictionary meaning of the word, but rather to the circumstances surrounding their experiences of the word in use.

But that explanation doesn't make for a handy little aphorism.

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