May 10, 2006

on pedants

Semantics | Sem*an”tics |
n. sing. or pl. Gr. shmantikos having meaning, from sh^ma a sign.

1. the study of the meanings of words and of the sense development of words; — formerly called semasiology.

The phrase “arguing semantics” is a new pet peeve of mine, as arguing semantics literally means “arguing meaning,” which is exactly what one should be arguing, as far as I can tell. Especially on topics such as abortion, where the semantics of “life” and “person” are the entire argument; in this case, if you’re arguing semantics, you’re just paying attention.

Most people seem to think that “arguing semantics” is some how analogous to being picky. Perhaps a better phrase is “arguing pedantics,” where to be pedantic is to be “overly concerned with formal rules and trivial points of learning,” though common sense and my spell checker tell me you can’t just add an s to an adjective without serious repercussions.

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  1. You usually say someone is “just arguming semantics” when they are being picky about your phrasing or word choice, when they really know what you mean. They are choosing to refute or criticize your phraseology, not your idea(s). It doesn’t have to do with definitions per se. –Beej

    Comment by B.J. — May 22, 2006 @ 10:07 pm

  2. I agree. Another peeve of mine is people who denegrate, or generalize a commonly used term and incorportate it for their own use. They refuse to discriminate between good and evil. Thus, grade-inflation, for example. The latest one was by a bloke in England who insisted on defining our President and the present party in power as facist ! Your example, I agree with. Abortion is killing. No, murder more precisely.

    Comment by Chief RZ — May 23, 2006 @ 6:39 am

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