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Thread: It's Just Semantics

  1. #1 It's Just Semantics 
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    I really hate that phrase - "it's just semantics".

    Of course it is bloody semantics. Semantics is about meaning. If we are not clear in the the words we select, the way we structure them into sentences, then we are unclear period. The fine distinctions required by semantics are not peripheral they are at the heart of any argument or discussion.

    A pox on those who think otherwise.


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  3. #2  
    Forum Ph.D. Leszek Luchowski's Avatar
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    At the risk of sounding like a silly netter from the early days of AOL, I'll say:

    Me too!!!


    Leszek. Pronounced [LEH-sheck]. The wondering Slav.
    History teaches us that we don't learn from history.
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  4. #3  
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    I think it depends on the context. If there truly is a distinction between the terms that are used, then you are right. On the other hand, someone might be splitting hairs, in which case, then it would be appropriate to claim that "it's just semantics."

    Suppose a politician promised that, if elected, he would oppose any new taxes. Then upon being elected, he approves new fees for government services that were previously paid for by taxes. He then claims he kept his promise of no new taxes.

    Well, technically he may be corect. Taxes are covered by a different statute than fees, and fees are paid according to the service used. However, as far as the citizen is concerned, it's money out of his pocket into the government coffers. It's just semantics.
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  5. #4  
    Forum Ph.D. Leszek Luchowski's Avatar
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    When I first met this expression, I was puzzled because the Polish noun "semantyka" (which means semantics = the study of meanings of words) cannot be used in this way. It didn't make sense to me. When somebody says "it's just semantics" as in Harold's example, he's not saying "it's just a different meaning of the same word" - on the contrary, he's saying "it's just another word meaning the same" ("taxes" or "fees" meaning the same net result in your example).

    I then did some dictionary browsing and found out that the English word "semantics" also has another meaning: choosing words to artfully convey, or even conceal, an idea. That's meaning 3b in this dictionary entry.

    I wonder how on earth a word could have acquired such different meanings... and in wondering so, am I practicing semantics? Or just semantics?
    Leszek. Pronounced [LEH-sheck]. The wondering Slav.
    History teaches us that we don't learn from history.
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  6. #5  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leszek Luchowski
    ... and in wondering so, am I practicing semantics? Or just semantics?
    Or in the case of politicians - some antics. (I hope that one isn't lost in translation.)

    Harold, in your example I think semantics is the whole point. As Leszek has noted from the Polish use of the equivalent word the politician is playing word games, using two different words that effectively mean the same thing. A semantic analysis of what the politician had said would clearly reveal his attempted deception. It would be as solid as a public admission of guilt.
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