Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On the meanings of words...

Today as I was clearing my table in the cafeteria, I got to overhear a rather interesting conversation. It went something like this:
Guy 1: "I'd love to have a nightgown."
(snickers erupt from the table of guys he's sitting with)
Guy 1: "What?! They're classy! "
After several minutes of trying to defend his seemingly effeminate choice of pajamas, the other guys realized that when Guy 1 said "nightgown" what he meant was "bathrobe" (or dressing gown, or house coat, or whatever they say where you're from). Silly as it may seem, this got me thinking about the meaning of words, the significance a certain utterance carries and the power it has to create specific images and impressions in our minds. While to most of us, the word "nightgown" produces the image of a frilly, victorian sleeping frock, clearly this fellow saw rather different picture. The words we choose to use are perhaps more important than we may think them to be. Or, to use official terminology, the paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships of the signifiers we utilize in speech can carry extreme significance.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Thursday night I was sitting in my first "Intro to Linguistics" class and started to contimplate how my brain was able to recognize and comprehend the particular arangment of vocalizations made by our prof... I guess that's what I'll learn in class! :-)