The Fringe

I’ve taken an interest recently in what might be called pseudo-science. What I find fascinating about them isn’t the theories they propound, though (those are usually just kind of absurd), but their use of language. It often seems like they have to invent their own language in order to communicate their non-orthodox ideas.

For example, look at the advertisement here (link goes to language log, a blog well worth reading). Half of those words don’t actually mean anything to 99% of the population.

Or the quotation from here (link goes to strange maps, another good blog); “zetetic” is a real word, but no one ever uses it, so to give themselves an air of scientific precision these people have adopted it.

Then there’s things like this, which does not invent its own words but makes quite unique use of certain phrases; “educated stupid” is a great phrase, for example. Actually, that page sounds almost like poetry – doing dramatic readings of it is really fun.

Finally, check out this guy’s Wikipedia page. His whole schtick revolves around his own personal language which he says is meant to achieve “the stopping-claims of the theft, cheating, fraud, slavery and war.” Uh, yeah.

What are we to make of all of this? It seems like all of these people have invented their own language with which to talk to themselves and their few followers, and in doing so they have lost the ability to communicate with the outside world. Effectively, they speak a different language – and thus cannot be convinced by arguments against their position propounded in English.

This has obvious implications for philosophic thought in general, I think; trying to give precise definitions to words is useful, but if the definitions given or the words used become too separated from every-day speech, they can become a crutch, a means of retaining a believe in one’s own correctness by making argument against one’s position impossible.

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