is there no such thing as meaning, Dr. Quine?

…it is discussed in semiotic circles that there is no such thing as meaning.   That is, words can change meaning.  Meaning is a convention we accept in the cultural form of language.

For example, due to unmitigated code switching which, if you speak two languages fluently, you know it happens, my daughter and I lived fragility of word meaning.  In our case, for reasons I cannot explain with anything better than : the switching happened late at night and early in the morning — when we were tired.  I code switched “bathing suit”  for “pajamas.”  It was a time when my daughter and I were intensely involved in serious swim team competitions.  So, when it was night, we were tired from the day and it was time to go to sleep — and yes, I would ask Tally to put on her bathing suit.  And obviously,  she put on her pajamas.  Conversely, very early in the morning as we got ready to go to the pool to start workouts,  I would say:  “Tally, did you put on your pajamas?”  And Tally would put on her bathing suit.  All was fine.

In the summer, we had 2 to 3 kids from the team who would stay with us for the month to go to swim practice and competitions.  Code switching continued to happen to me, but I noticed when I asked: “come on girls, put on your bathing suits, time to sleep,”  all of them put on their pajamas.  The same inversion worked just fine in the morning.  At the last week of the season medal ceremony, one of the parents approached me to ask if I understood why her daughter wanted to take her pajamas to the swim meets.

Language is a convention. Some of us remember when “bad” meant “good,” “fuzz” meant cops — in an oppressed time.   Then, “mad” meant “very,” “word” meant “you bet.”   It’s not the word that holds the meaning.  It’s the need, and the convention.   So I raise my glass to the puzzled swim team mothers and toast to Dr. Quine — the man who told me that in a way, there may not be such a thing a meaning.

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About vera dumont

Eternal philosophy student
This entry was posted in philosophy, whose decision is it anyway?. Bookmark the permalink.

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