On Meanings, On Words

Wished to post a quote I saw today: “Life is grim on the galactic rim.” (Ian O’Neill).

So many meanings hidden behind these few words. Who decides which one to use?

O’Neill’s sentence is excellent. His main idea was that what closer you reach to the edge of a galaxy, the smaller are the chances of finding life due to the decreasing chances for the existence of planets.
However, one could also interpret the sentence simply as: ‘Life is difficult and hard if you live on the rim of a galaxy.’
And what would stop a person from figuring out a thousand other meanings?

Absolutely nothing.

There’s a saying in Estonian which goes as, “Sõnad on tuul.” [“Words are wind.”] I once expanded on that, and said to myself, “Sõnad on tuul… kuid tuul võib puhuda põhjast või lõunast, tuul võib olla tugev või nõrk.” [“Words are wind… but wind may blow from the north or the south, it may be a strong gust or a mild breeze.”]

In this age where words are more often and often interpreted through the (abomination of a) computer screen, what is the guarantee that anyone understand us as we wished to be understood. Unfortunately, nothing. Therefore, we should take the extra effort of expanding upon our thoughts if they are not the clearest.

Another factor comes to play here as well. There are occasions where a person would wish to be understood doubly. Diplomacy. [Either between states or people.] Not necessarily doublespeak, but where a single sentence can have a meaning which is both strong and mild, depending on what the other side does.

And while ‘The great questions of the day will not be settled by speeches and majority decisions, but by blood and iron.’ (Otto von Bismarck) it does not reduce the importance of being able to solve potential conflicts by words.

But… if our words are broadcast to others via a computer screen… is that not a failure to communicate no matter what the final result?


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  1. Although I believe that diplomacy has more to do with getting along with people through respectful interactions. One can be diplomatic without being duplicitous. Also, there is this danger that many people whose main work is words come to believe that words have a lot more power than they actually do.

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