Words ought to be color coded. Not necessarily the U.S. government’s once-upon-a-time five level system of fear and paranoia in which yellow, appropriately enough, recommended remaining scared in spite of no immediate threat. A three level system will be sufficient for words. Here’s how it will work.
Green words mean what they say, plain and simple. Red words are communication suicide bombers; their meaning is assigned independently by the user and the usee. That can cause trouble. A yellow word is somewhere in between the red and green ones; not entirely clear but safe.
“Twenty-six” is a nice green word. It means the same thing to everyone who hears it.
The words for lower numbers, by and large, are yellow. “Two” calls to mind all sorts of things – company? for tea? to tango? And consider “sixteen” – so sweet and never been kissed? But twenty-six is twenty-six. Definitely green.
“Science” is a red word. Webster’s says “science” means the state of knowing and that “scientific” means of, relating to, or exhibiting the methods or principles of science. Why, then, do so many good writers speak of “scientific” facts? Are there unscientific ones?
And what about all those passionate people for whom “science” means a grand conspiracy intent on putting the oil companies out of business and making us ride bicycles, to say nothing of attacking their religion. For them science is a four letter word.
Not surprisingly, professional practitioners of science don’t feel that way. For them, “science” seems to mean the best truth obtainable. And isn’t truth something absolute? But then, don’t people of faith feel that way about their, well, Faith. So Faith and Science are identical? Seems unlikely.
When pressed, some scien-tists say that science is a method. They say they imagine how something works and then try to do something which they couldn’t do if their imaginary explanation was wrong. They call it testing a hypothesis with an experiment but it all starts in their imagination. If they end up being able to do what they imagined they could do if their original imaginary idea was true, they feel as though they’ve found a new truth. But then if someone else comes along with another experiment and it ends up showing the opposite they don’t give up on the scientific method. They just keep imagining and doing experiments. Keeps them in business. So the next time somebody says “but it’s been scientifically proven” run for cover.
Now for “economy”. Back to Webster’s. “Thrifty and efficient use of material resources….efficient and concise use of nonmaterial resource…the arrangement or mode of operation of something…a system especially of interaction and exchange…the structure of economic life in a country.” What’s that last one? An adjective used to define the same noun it’s derived from? Would defining “blue” as a bluish color get us anywhere other than in circles? For a word that was among the top two dozen used in the last presidential debates, Webster seems to have missed the boat entirely. “Economy” is definitely red.
For lots of people, it seems, a good economy means “I have a job.” For others it means “my 401 K is growing at 12%.” For others it means “I can afford stuff.” For our elected leaders it seems like the whole enchilada. If it’s good for the economy it is Good. But wait.
Hurricanes are good for the economy. They create jobs and demand for products. So is sickness. Pumps up hiring in the healthcare sector. And credit card debt – means you’re a real patriot spending what you don’t have. And cars that rust out after five years – no problem, helps the economy. Keeps those auto workers employed. Think about regulations that will reduce the toxicity of the air we breath? No way, the economy will suffer. Clean water? Same deal. Lower greenhouse gas emissions? Flies in the face of common sense. I’m getting confused. Maybe this whole matter is so complex I need a philosopher to help me out.
Thomas Carlyle, a famous Scottish philosopher whose ethnic stereotype puts him among the very most economical people in the world called teachers of economics respectable professors of the dismal science.
A double red! Watch out.!