Lawrence May maylg at
Wed Jul 28 13:16:34 EDT 1999

Lawrence May wrote:
    As a computer programmer who deals with words that
have context free meanings, I could only wish that the
same would be the same for human languages.
    I like to be sure what the Bible actually says.   After
all it is God's word.  He should be able to communicate
His will accurately to men of good will.

Will Wagers wrote:

> Dear B-Geeks,
> Although uncounted examples of apparently irrelevant etymology
> can be devised, although innumerable examples of etymology
> being turned into a whore for socio-politico-theological reasons--
> not to mention pure ignorance--are available, we go too far when
> we say that context alone determines meaning. If this were so, any
> arbitrary string of grunts would suffice for language. Where is this
> *context* coming from?--if not from the "meanings" of the words
> (phrases).  Are we saying that a word in question can only be
> defined by its use in context--which is determined by some means
> other than context? How do we get out of the *infinities* invoked
> when meaning is determined by context alone? I can see that the
> word "Stop" on a red octagonal(?) sign takes it's meaning from
> context, but it is functioning as a *sign*. If words only have meaning
> in context, how is it I can string together "meaningless" words and
> phrases and end up with a meaningful sentence?
> I think that this list--if not the entire academic world--has gone
> overboard in relying on context alone, or, rather, by excluding
> etymology from the context. No doubt this is a reaction to apparent,
> past abuses, but it is an over-reaction.
> To an etymologist, the *context* is not just a word's neighbors
> on a page, but the living language as it exists in living minds
> (There are no known "dead" languages as can be plainly seen on
> this list.), the vibrant culture, even human *biology*--language
> is a *biological* faculty, not a *spiritual* one.
> What we are dealing with--etymology vs. context--is not so much
> a property of language as a property of human thought, i.e. the
> ability to conceive opposites *without* the ability to reconcile them--
> a subject to which the ancients devote a great deal of literature.
> (Significantly, Logos is, itself, the resolution of opposites--Matter
> and Spirit--which results in Creation.)
> The perfect analogue--indeed, perhaps the basis--of the controversy
> is "Nature vs. Nurture". But, for any sane geneticist, there is no such
> controversy; because, neither exists alone and each derives its
> "meaning" from the other.  They only function together, indeed they
> only exist together!
> The ancients were very concerned with this etymology vs. context
> analogy, e.g. Logos as "(Spoken)  Word". What is the context of this
> primal utterance?
> Regards,
> Will Wagers     hyle at             "Reality is the best metaphor."
> (P.S. I am certainly not singling out George for my comments.)

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