Categories
Philosophy

Semantic Ambiguity

Language is as fallible as memory – it is a shared symmetry of endemic extensibility

The dynamism and flexibility of language is simultaneously its strength and its weakness. This is a corollary of the abstract/logical and concrete/material extensibility that haunts technology as cyber (in)security but is by no means limited there. It is an irreducibly discontinuous symmetry of uncertainty that plagues all organisations and institutional contexts.

The incessant invention of complex lexicons, taxonomies, frameworks and best practices is as much as anything else an attempt to control (or at least channel) the endemic quicksilver ambiguities of semantics, of meanings and good intentions. A turbulent drift from agreed-upon meanings is the bane of all ordered systems of thought.

Wittgenstein captured this well when he spoke of people playing their own “word games”. There are not merely different meanings – there are entire grammatical matrices and rules-sets that individuals, organisations and professional contexts inhabit. For better and for worse, the dissonance generated here provides opportunities for commercial and political exploitation.

Definitions are always tautological in the gestalt, circularly self-referential; the crux here might be in making them usefully so. Ambiguity in language can be useful.

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