I am continually amused by very specific details of Philip K. Dick’s world view and personal philosophy, i.e. as we can grasp from his writings and occasional interview. There is one where he says that the most important part of a character is the word choice:
The most important thing is picking up the speech pattern, picking up the cadence of actual spoken English. That’s the main thing I look for — the little mannerisms, the word choice. — PKD
Obviously, that is a very restricted, casual assertion, and it is presumptuous of me to guess a whole philosophical instance from this, but… He accepts that some amount of information — and very important information — can be extracted from small differences in the form of expression. That subtle differences in speaking can lead us to uncover (or suppose) structural characteristics of the person’s way-of-knowing-the-world.
To further my point, over at LanguageLog there’s a discussion about some archbishop’s incompetence at expressing his opinions where we come across using “unclarity” instead of “obscurity”. It might at first seem that both words are worth the same. If so, the latter word being more common makes it faster to grasp and therefore better to transmit an idea.
In the other hand, lack-of-clarity might be subtly different from obscurity: it is not exactly a shadow but instead a lack of light, and actually it might point to the fact that the clarity is a sought-after property. And we are not even beginning to explore the subjective aspects of the expression.
From a purely evaluative standpoint, it seems that this is superfluous. If we just want to know what the word means, we do not need to know whether it is unclear or obscure. We could just have token-A(NOT clear). But we are actually alive and without a prior above-fixed goal. That is: if we get more out of a given circumstance, so much the better for us, and exactly what is “more” is also up to us. Again: there are no limits to our exploration of the world, even if the world does have limits.
So, back to the point, if primary objective reasons do not govern a given word-choice, we might (in the sense that sometimes we do, without guarantees) assume that there are non-linear, complex, maybe error-prone, and idiosyncratic reasons. I actually think that choosing to accept such possibility or not is a pre-verbal (in the sense that you learn it before you learn to speak) belief, sharing the same depth of religious biases.
Now, to completely shake things up, let’s assume that expression acts are only attempts, and that communication is not a transmission of some-kind-content-whatever-it’s-matter but instead isolated performances with synchronization objectives. That is, what you say is not the sharing of an idea, but merely a performance to allow you to live in society. (Suspend disbelief for a moment, just for the sake of argument).
With this new hypothesis, either word-choices are tolerances (in the sense of lack-of-precision) in the expression-act or they are tools of the abstraction infrastructure of society. Let’s clarify (or unobscure?) this latter meaning.
Assume that language is not a thing-in-itself but a symptom of a collective attempt at management. That is, language is just a side-effect of the collectivization of human-life (just like the worker bee is a side-effect of the beehive). Now assume that a word is an attempt at circumscribing some parts of a continuum into an unit. That is, an attempt at taking something that is without divisions and putting it into graspable parts.
Clearly, dividing something is an act of violence. But it is important to notice that even dividing it conceptually is violence. This conceptual division begins the physical one, it allows it, and it makes this division important. That is, conceptually dividing the world potentizes the might-of-dividing of humanity.
This attempt might be the beginning of philosophy, but let Derridá live with this…
Now different words are not different forms of dividing things. Every person that speaks a word has used it to divide the world, but each and every one of them has made a different attempt, even if only because each and every one was in a different place and time. But the use of two different-but-similar words by the same person shows that this given person is not completely happy with the first attempt. That is, the given field-of-experience still requires forms of behavior which cannot be easily mapped to the words at hand. This might be read as signifying that the experience is still more complex than the language.
Our little inquiry at the possible meanings of the phrase “word choice” has then led us to an world-view where the complexities of experiences (or maybe the density-of-complexity) drives language, and through it (or maybe in order to) allows us to enhance the social management of the world. This idea might be too deeply mingled with assumptions to be useful. On the other hand, this might itself be a clue about our present state of ideas.
[Right now i am high on caffeine, dispensed in a variety of forms from coke to guaraná, and this whole post might not be sound to a unspeeded brain, and i had been for a long long time intending to speculate about word choices, and maybe i will need to do it again, but right now is seems to me to ring some beautiful strings.]