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Vern Wimmer

A duel: thesaurus' at 12 paces

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At what point do we accept the mutation of language? 

Will we, as bladesmiths, someday accept simply a difference in polishing between the lower and upper halves of a blade as an "Hamon" simply because "everyone calls it that."?

Now in the case of the tetm "Bowie" we are stuck with an anomoly since we cannot, with sureity, describe the "original" but there have been a number of features ascribed, post hoc, to the term creating certain generalities but in many cases a point, a handle, and a cutting edge may well be the only commonalities.

The need for a mutationless lexicon becomes significantly important when it comes to definatives and descriptors. A fixed definition of anything does not preclude creativity because the English language is blessed with both the simile and metaphore which may be used to indicate similarity but are set apart from a direct inclusion by grammatic structure and key-word flags so as to make the speaker/writer's inention clear.

Without the presence of fixed definitions a language would not, certainly, be progressing, or even mutating but rather degrading and devolving. It is in the need to clearly describe and reach common understanding that language has its very roots.

 

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I'm a little confused by this. I get your meaning, but it's kind of an open ended thought. Let me dumb this down. 

You ask when we might accept the change of language (your examples are terminologies). You state the importance of a "mutationless lexicon" (unchanging language, or knowlage); presumably defining bladesmithing terms. 

You stated that even if things have tight guidlines, you can still use figures of speech, and context clues to cyfer what the writer meant.  

Then, you said that the whole point of language is to create understanding between people; that's hard without fixed definitions.

After that, you pretty much just fell off. Are your intentions for people to try and define something as heavily disputed as the bowie? Or, are you trying to define just any old tool, or part, style, etc.? 

Seems like a tough and moot thing to do. Even if you and a few others decided the definitions within this "lexicon" who else might follow these guidelines? 

Maybe somehow I've missed your point? 

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I know that I have completely missed his point. He especially lost me when he said:

2 hours ago, Vern Wimmer said:

Without the presence of fixed definitions a language would not, certainly, be progressing, or even mutating but rather degrading and devolving.

It is the changing nature of language and meaning of words that makes a language evolve, and I don't think it's actually possible for a language to devolve, unless we start communicating with grunts and facial expressions rather than words. Language changes and word definitions change with societal changes. "Gay" went from meaning happy to something completely different. "Friend" became a verb somehow.........stuff happens.

2 hours ago, Vern Wimmer said:

The need for a mutationless lexicon becomes significantly important when it comes to definatives and descriptors.

I reject that there is any "need" for a  lexicon that doesn't change and double reject it's importance. That would imply that language should never grow or expand to include new words, concepts or even (gods forbid) adaptations to discoveries or inclusion of words & concepts from other cultural paradigms. If the acceptable definition of Hamon went from meaning the visible transition from martensitic steel to an adjacent band of pearlitic steel to meaning any visible line across a piece of steel that acid etching and polishing could produce, I wouldn't really care a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys. It's like arguing about how many layers constitutes "real" Damascus. It really doesn't have any noticeable affect on my life.

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I wouldn't argue against fixed points in a language. Language is, after all, a method of communication, and if there is no common framework, no communication can take place.

But, to argue that language must be fixed at all points is to take a monolithic view of a multiplicitous beast. We must be careful not to assume that our language is fractal. If we were to try talking about, say, a "Sheffield model" to someone not familiar with dialectic jargon that contextualizes it, they would likely have no idea what you meant.

One could argue that this merely indicates that specific jargon and dialects are akin to facets of a linguistic crystal: forever fixed aspects of a singular whole. Terms like Hamon and menuki, for example, belie this model.

To paraphrase the late, great Douglas Adams, English does not borrow from other languages. Rather it beats them up in dark alleys and rifles through their pockets for loose grammar. In the instance of the above terms, there exists a way to describe both in our native tongue, yet we found these in Japanese's suit coat and decided to use them instead. They are, within the context of the bladesmith's dialect, more efficient, and so they replace the more cumbersome English definitions in similar fashion to a genetic mutation.

To look more broadly, let's examine idiomatic and vernacular speech. 

What, pray tell, does 23 skidoo mean? If I say "it's been a minute," would it be wise to assume I meant 60 seconds have passed? What to make of "I put that on my mama?"

The first example, we would likely all agree, is a linguistic dead end. Yet it served, if nothing, as a socio-linguistic demarcation. The others, while deviations (mutations) from what is generally considered standard, or "proper" English, likewise serve specific functions within their respective dialectic lexicons. 

It's late where I am now, so I'll have to stop here. Tomorrow, time permitting, it's all about the shibboleths, baby. 

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I was relating to the point of another post in another thread about the "mutation" of language and how it was implied as evolutionary "progress". 

To "dumb it down": the language allows room for evolution as long as we have a common foundation. We can use modifiers ( like, similar, reminiscent of) or even create new terms but an established definition should not be modified by trends or fads or misuse because that undermines the foundation and muddies the knowledge we need to be able to share.

A good "for instance" in knifemaking might be if someone were to commission you, over the phone, to make them a "K-Bar" knife. 

As to Joshua's point, how do you meet a customer's expectations if you each define every term differently ? Is somehow having to sketch out a picture of every knife, rather like a cave painting, a positive evolution of language?

Jon, your mention of mementics was amusing given the Websters online definition,

"

Definition of memetics

: the study of memes

Memetics sees ideas as a kind of virus, sometimes propagating in spite of truth and logic. Its maxim is: Beliefs that survive aren't necessarily true, rules that survive aren't necessarily fair and rituals that survive aren't necessarily necessary. Things that survive do so because they are good at surviving.

 —Los Angeles Times,  20 Mar. 1999

— 

memeticist

 play \mē-ˈme-tə-sist, mə-\ noun, plural memeticists

Some memeticists liken memes to viruses; others say they're closer to genes. [Robert] Aunger rejects both models. To him, a meme is more like a benign parasite that's incapable of reproducing without a host, the host being the human brain. 

—Jay Kirk, Wilson Quarterly,  Summer 2002"

That is a rather desultory reccomendation for the pursuit of the field. 

We are fortunate in that we have yardsticks, such as Websters to measure our definitions against. I understand the existential angle of memetics but the use of common definitions whether one can argue their complete and total authenticity or the opposite, provide a common starting point for communication of knowledge.

We all know that a peanut is not a member of the nut family but, with the exception of those who have only referred to them as "goober peas" , if you put a pile of them on the table most Americans will say "a pile of peanuts" 

I think you and I are closer to agreement than you realize. Language must evolve as Man evolves. Technology certainly proves that, but it must also have constant roots as well. IMO for myself have bemoaned the fact that I am part of a generation that was removed from compulsory study of Latin. I was tangentally taught to look for the roots of words and casual interaction with omance languages reenforced this. Still a basic exposure to Latin would have eased many things.

Such it is with things like Art. Without a knowledge of the foundations, and a respect for them ( whether we actually like all of them or not) how much value does it have when we praise someone's bladesmithing by calling them " a true artist" ? Perhaps we should always caveat that statement with the old cliche " I don't know much about art, but I know what I like." for veracity's sake?

"Words have meaning" We can discuss whether a knife is "like a K-Bar" only if we are talking about the same "K-Bar" 

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Posted (edited)

Was the partaking of herbs involved in the start this discussion... ??  :wacko:

Edited by Clifford Brewer
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3 hours ago, Joshua States said:

It's like arguing about how many layers constitutes "real" Damascus.

The meaning of Damascus through the ages; another fine example of the changes.

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3 hours ago, Clifford Brewer said:

Was the partaking of herbs involved in the start this discussion... ??  :wacko:

I thought I was gonna have to partake in some herb just to make sense of it :lol:

Duuuude, hows the internet work man? 

Me: (after staring at a wall for a minute) I don't even know man...

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And, I wouldn't say you have to study the foundations of art to be a "true artist". Art requires only feelings, thoughts, and the ability to bring that out into an image, writing, or sound. I don't care how educated you are. If you can't feel it, well then you are'nt making art. 

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Three points to Jon for the shibboleth reference! We really do use those.  If you don't know what it means, look it up.  ;)

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Funny you should mention Webster, as it dovetails with my thoughts on shibboleths.

But first, a little background.

For those who may not know, shibboleth is a biblical reference to a war between two of the tribes of Israel. Since it was difficult to distinguish sides by sight, someone had the idea to take advantage of the other sides congenital inability to pronounce "sh." Gatekeepers would ask anyone wanting to enter to say shibboleth. If they said pronounced the "sh," they passed. If not, they died.

We've taken this word, which if I remember correctly originally referred to grain, and changed the meaning to refer to a linguistic test of in-group status.

Oh, look, a definition change.

But more to the point, gatekeeper language in English dates back at least to the Middle English period and the Norman French occupation. The ruling Normans eschewed the English their subjects spoke, effectively making the language a class marker. Between the Italian Renaissance and France's golden period, English pretty much stayed on the low end of society. 

"But what about Shakespeare?" In historical context, his plays were more akin to, say, Team America than No Country for Old Men.

Anyway, the rise of the merchant class, colonialism, and literacy meant eventually everyone needed to know English. The gatekeepers suddenly had a very wide gate to guard. In to this chaos steps Daniel [middle name redacted] Webster. 

He looked upon the gatekeepers plight, and said no more. His dictionary was an attempt to codify a singular "correct" way to speak and write English. In effect, he built a new gate. He wasn't the only one, but he's definitely the most famous, so we'll let him stand in for the whole.

Since the language itself is no longer sufficient to mark class or in-group, we use accent, idiom, and word choice instead.

To wrap up on history, language has been used not only to communicate, but to demarcate and control the flow of information and power for a very long time.

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I find memetics to a be very interesting way to look at language. In this framework, each dialect is just another "strain" of the English "virus."  And, as far as life is concerned, progress, or complexity, doesn't matter. Only what allows an organism to effectively continue passing on its particular genes matters. In this context, if a definition change allows a word to see wider usage, that change is successful.

This doesn't cover how a definition change happens, though. For that, we need to set aside Webster's fiat and look at English in the raw. 

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Jon, as an introduction to your shibboleth sermon ;), here is another:

 

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4 hours ago, Jon Cook said:

 

This doesn't cover how a definition change happens, though. For that, we need to set aside Webster's fiat and look at English in the raw. 

So, in other words,

"We need to set aside  definitions because they don't fit our paradigm" ?

"Actually having a confirmed meaning to words is like ....so confining Dude. Things only mean what we want them to. "

Funny, to " look at English in the raw" would be exactly going back to the original meanings of words. Unless of course your meaning is to simply deconstruct the language . 

There are words and phrases that simply must remain unchanged to provide a foundation for development since they encourafe and provide for it.

 

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1 hour ago, Vern Wimmer said:

So, in other words,

"We need to set aside  definitions because they don't fit our paradigm" ?

 

 

Nope. The dictionary is a useful tool, but not everything is a nail.

I'm making my way there, if you will bear with me a little longer. 

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shib·bo·leth

[ˈSHibələTH]

NOUN

a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important

 

So to be put bluntly, Old school..........

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Posted (edited)

Britain and the USA have been described as "two countries separated by a common language". The same has been said of Spain and Mexico (or any of the former Spanish Colonies). I remember watching a documentary about the American dialectic differences and the various colloquialisms popular to different parts of the country. The show also took time to transport people from one geographical area into another one and film the interactions between the participants. The two scenes that stood out most for me was the Brooklyn man in the South Alabama restaurant (a similar scene occurs in the movie My Cousin Vinnie) and the person from rural Maine in the NYC delicatessen. Neither of these people could order lunch in the new environment. They simply did not grasp the definitions of "chicken fried steak" or "blintz".

Language typically has a base common to all speakers with words whose definitions remain largely static. Definitions morph and acceptable meanings expand to accommodate socio-political-economic events and changing, or just different, values. 

If someone asked me to make them a Bowie knife, I would have to ask several questions up front, starting with "what kind?" I have heard several adjectives commonly used before the word "Bowie" to try and distinguish a particular style, size, or hardware associated with the blade shape we all are mostly comfortable with accepting as a "Bowie". This has occurred over time and through cultural differences within the American experience. Has the "art" of blade making been damaged by this expansion of the definition? I don't think so. I think rather the opposite has occurred. 

So if someone from San Diego came up with a way to create a visible line longitudinally across the length of a blade that did not occur because of heat treatment and traditional Hamon making techniques, yet it was just as permanent, and they dubbed it the "California Hamon", is that a bad thing? Is that degrading the language or the art?

Edited by Joshua States

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"“When I use a word ” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means  just what I choose it to mean —neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.” I think this sums it up nicely.. Thank you Mr Carroll....

JPH

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1 hour ago, JPH said:

 

"“When I use a word ” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means  just what I choose it to mean —neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.” I think this sums it up nicely.. Thank you Mr Carroll....

JPH

^^^^

"That all depends on what your definition of the word"is" is."

Book of Mendacity, verse 1, Chapter 1.

Nice one JPH !

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In school and a long time after that I could not for the life of me see the need for Latin.......except if it's a cool slogan and everybody knows what it means.

That changed the instant the Internet allowed me to try two new hobbies that occupied my 30's.

Best example is growing bonsai, when getting advice internationally, common names mean nothing, you have to fall back on the Latin names.

If I understand the "question" correctly, I feel language can and will evolve, but it shouldn't where something specific is being described. 

I think that ship has sailed as far as "Bowie" is concerned, maybe "Seax" as well?

 

Old before my time, too much German blood, or just a revulsion for the entitled and self-centered attitudes so common today, I believe these things should be defined and fixed as far as possible. Failing to do so means lost data in the future....to my mind at least.

The artist is welcome to say "I saw a seax and was inspired to make this" (as long as the HT is good :P), but don't make a Bowie and proclaim it as your version of a seax.

 

Learned about shibboleth today, thank you, I'm a bit richer!

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I think we still have the ability to keep the narrow, historical definition of seax.  After all, this very forum is the one that revived the species, and we are quick to point out to new makers what is and is not correct if you're going to call something a seax.

Hamon is a little trickier, but most people can tell the difference between a true hamon, a differential hardening line, and a trick etch.  

For everything else I tend to agree with Humpty...

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9 hours ago, JPH said:

 

"“When I use a word ” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means  just what I choose it to mean —neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.” I think this sums it up nicely.. Thank you Mr Carroll....

JPH

There was another earlier comment that alluded to trendy chemical amusement aids. How fitting it is to include Mr Carroll in the discussion!

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