Comment 1: Facts and “to factulate”

From fact to factulate; from verb to verbify. Ugly, but legitimate.

It pays to look at what modern dictionaries say about words which are in common and in wide use. Once again I looked up *fact* in the reputable Merriman-Webster Dictionary (on-line edition) and found the following entry:

Fact: noun. A thing that is indisputably the case. Information used as evidence or as part of a report of news article. Synonyms: reality – deed — actuality – truth – case — circumstance.

Note that the dictionary defines *fact* by citing how the word is commonly used but also by citing explicitly some of its synonyms. The effect is to create an environment, i.e. a context, whereby each word is related to all others in the selection by indicating what choices are available on each side of the divide! It leaves the decision of what to do about the choices open to the user: the user therefore remains entirely responsible for making the correct or appropriate choice from the array of “equivalences” offered.

This matter had already been discussed in a different context more than 60 years ago by Lee Cronbach and Paul Meehl (1955) in the context of “psychological measurement” (to which I propose to return in a future article). If one does not understand the positive options offered, one can at least infer the meaning of a particular term chosen by referring and comparing it to what it can not possibily mean! Whittling down a meaning by eliminating those deemed unsuitable? This seems a plausible strategy to success: if one does not know the meaning of a term in advance, it can often be guessed by eliminating it from those one already knows.

What puzzled me about a dictionary definition — but also appalled me — was the suggestion that a fact could be viewed as “part of a report of news articles!” I assume the term “news article” refers to articles published in established newspapers, possibly weeklies? Which? The reputable New York Times, the Guardian or the now ill-reputed Daily Mail (which was recently “banished” by Wikipedia for its habit of publishing unsubstantiated and unfounded “news reports” — as has been done in the UK’s Daily Mirror and News of the World for decades! These are a small selection from a world-wide set of dailies).

My philosophical head also spun when I discovered that far too many of the synonyms listed in the Merriman Dictionary can be “substituted” by changing the meaning of a part of the sentence in which these occurred! It just will not work since the sense of a sentence is then highly compromised — even lost — when this is done. As soon as one recognizes this to be the case, a person will withdraw the particular attempt and will substitute another synonym. I assume that there is experiemental evidence to support my fantasy? What I have described is a process of extremely rapid substitution based on one’s “unconscious recognition” of what is being done.

What seems indisputable, however, is that the word *fact* — a word we all love to use(!) — gets used exclusively as a noun. If, however, it is used as a verb is it referred to as *to factulate*? Has anyone used fact as a verb, on the analogy of changing the noun to a verb, perhaps to the verb *to verbify*? They should feel free to do so — to create what sound like “monsters” — if we claim that people “make facts” or “shape” these from non-factual materials!

There are precedents: *water* is a noun; *to water* is a verb in wide use. Is it an alternative to “spreading or distributing water”? What are acceptable limits to doing so with any noun?

Why not “verbify”?

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The Fictions We Create 4: Our Inside and the Rapidly Expanding Outside

We have come to accept that the inside world is large, although ordinary people do not have a very large vocabulary with which to report “inside” experiences. They cover this by saying “I think”,“I feel…” ,“I sense that…”. In other words, most people tend to leave the description of their “feelings” to our poets or song writers/musicians!

We are, in fact, demonstrably more adept at describing the outside world — our common world. Some say that this is so because we live in a materialistic culture which is primarily focussed on the world around us. (Thus culture plays a “shaping” role).

However, both “domains” — the inside and the outside — are currently expanding rapidly, the latter at a faster rate than the former.* What do we do to meet our needs to express and refer to these changes? We create additional (new) term/ words and expressions which mark and label different events. Here the term creation has four references:

(a) Inventing new sounds (or symbols which substitute for sounds) to be used routinely in an existing language. The new sound — a complex event — is then assigned an “official meaning” either by fiat or later by including it in a current (on-line?) dictionary (which is a relatively new invention! — see the footnote** below);

(b) We borrow already existing words from a foreign language (e.g. Greek ἰδέα idea “form, pattern,” from the root of ἰδεῖν idein, “to see. Oxford English Dictionary 2014) but import into the host-language, only one one of its several meanings from its original, its donor-language (see earlier articles on neolidesm).

(c) We transform an existing word which has been selected from within our home- language and “quietly” assign an additional meaning to it by “analogy” i.e. by referring to its likeness/similarity between it and its new “reference”. In an earlier blog I have called this an “analogical spread”;

(d) We adapt an existing word in our home-language by changing its context of use. Using this method we assign new meaning to many old, well-worn words. It is sometimes the origin of what are now referred to as slang words, but not its only source, which I previously referred to as a special case of neolidesm. (See ** footnote below.)

* I have some reservations about this statement. One could argue that much of the “inside” worlds get expressed in expressive modes of popular culture, includes its songs, dances, arts.

** A brief statement about dictionaries taken mostly from Wikipedia:

Dictionaries go back several thousand years, but the “The first monolingual dictionary written in Europe was Spanish, written by Sebastián Covarrubias’ Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española, published in 1611 in Madrid, Spain.

Several attempts were made to produce a reference book to serve the current use for English speakers, but it was not until Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) that a reliable English dictionary was produced. At this point dictionaries had evolved which also featured textual references for most words, and their listing was arranged alphabetically, rather than by topic (a previously popular form of arrangement, which meant that all animals would be grouped together, etc.). Johnson’s masterwork was the first to bring all these elements together, thereby creating the first dictionary to be published in “modern” form.

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The Fictions We Create 3: Describing the Inside and Outside

Common sense distinguishes between objects that stand on the “outside” of a room or enclosure, and those located “within” a room, or a box, or a carton or an awkwardly configured shell/enclosure. Thus objects are invariably assumed to occupy space. Amongst their many diverse properties which is that objects are located somewhere, in some place which can itself be described and conceptualized, as “a vessel 20 leagues under the sea”! To be in space assumes therefore that one is located “within” or “outside” an enclosure.

Thinking outside the box

We speak routinely about “locations” but — as we shall see — this is speaking figuratively and metaphorically. By contrast, when we discuss our feelings about an issue — e.g. about a neighbour who has just won a large prize in a lottery, or the person who called the police to report an ongoing burglary of his home, or about the doctor’s report that someone known to us has contracted HIV — we not only report the bare facts of a case, but also refer to how these event affected or influenced us as individuals — specifically, how we feel, or retrospectively felt, about what happened on a particular occasion.

Of course, we usually or normally do not receive two reports, one of a particular event and the other of our feelings about it, although on many occasions we get these “mixed up”. Thus we may say, “I’m sorry that I appear all excited and wound-up but the following happened as I walked to the Forum — Caesar was killed by Brutus, and by a host of others!”

So humans, as a rule, report both what they have experienced but also how this experience may have affected them. In our culture we are also trained to be clear that reports and narratives can be both about “objective events” and about how these events influenced us “personally”! We learn therefore how to present “what has occurred out there, somewhere” and “how we (I) feel about a matter” in a clear, possibly concise, manner. The common distinction is therefore between (a) “objective” events and (b) events which “impact” our feelings and our personal reactions to such events.

We refer to these latter as “subjective reports” — and in this matter ensure that these are excluded from being “objective” or “scientific”! We assign to such events a special status. But there are exceptions, as when a person is totally focussed on events taking place “outside”, even when these are far in the past.

It would be a gross error of judgement to describe such events in “personal” terms, like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 70 AD which destroyed the Roman city of Pompeii. Not quite! It would also be inappropriate for a historian or archeologist to do so, but not for a writer of fiction, a novelist like Lord Lytton, or even of a stray eye-witness. (Were there any surviving witnesses?) In other words, we ourselves choose whether to treat an event as objective or in a personalized manner. In summary, there are times when we have the opportunity and the “right” to choose between these two options, whether to see and present ourselves to others as impartial witnesses, or as involved participants!

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