12.0403 quibbling

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 4 Feb 1999 22:15:16 +0000 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 403.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Thu, 04 Feb 1999 22:07:11 +0000
From: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: parsing and quibbling

One of the most outrageous things which has been visited upon us Americans
recently is the Clinton Affair, but it is an ill wind that blows no good. I
break no lance for either party, but I do want to defend the President on the
matter called by the House Managers "parsing" (they mean "quibbling").

The QUIBBLE OUTRAGEOUS is, I should think, part of the kitbag of the lawyer.
Everybody seems to think the President invented it, though we scholars argue
over and over about the meaning of a concept (e.g. The Renaissance). The
President said: "It depends on what _is_ means," and nowadays all kinds of
people are saying: "At least I know what _is_ means." Back when I was an
undergraduate, we used an old textbook by Susanne K. Langer, _An Introduction
to Symbolic Logic_ (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1938). On p. 55, she
points out: "Few people are aware that they use so common and important a
word as `is' in half a dozen different senses." She then offers 6 sentences
in which `is' has different meanings. Actually, Zipf's Law teaches us that
_is_, being such a common word, will have more than half a dozen different
senses, but sap. sat.

The Stoics taught us _omne verbum ambiguum esse_, and we ought to keep that
in mind.

Jim Marchand.

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