- “That’s not a word” probably means “That’s not a word I like”
- “That’s not art” probably means “That’s not art I like”
- “That’s not science fiction” probably means “That’s not the kind of science fiction I like” or, coming from a science-fiction fan, probably just means “I didn’t like that book or film”.
Like other primates, we humans understand our environment by categorising the things that we encounter in it. However, our advanced language skills soon show us that other individuals do not necessarily share the categories we have chosen. Most of the labels we use are arbitrary and debatable (even things we tend to think of as universal, like colours). Hard-and-fast definitions are largely confined to mathematics and hard sciences, and even there, a few years ago astronomers notoriously decreased the number of planets in our solar system by a wave of a definition.
|“That’s not a baby. That’s a Mr. Potato |
Head.” — an example of a useful categorisation
from Amazon Women on the Moon. Copyright
So, to revisit the examples from above:
- Instead of claiming that something “isn’t a word” (which is almost certainly is, for any useful definition of the word “word”), how about we just admit that it isn’t a word we ourselves would use, or which we would only use in a certain, particular context?
- Instead of claiming that something “isn’t art”, how about we talk about what kind of art we like or don’t like?
- Instead of claiming that something “isn’t science-fiction”, how about we talk about the elements that we see as common in the genre and the degree to which they’re present or absent in a particular film or book? (I want to write more on this subject soon).