Sense & Meaning (a verbal essay)

Here's the link

Another verbal essay as I'm enjoying my disappearance into the spoken moment....

Here, I talk about the distinction between meaning and sense. Meaning is general and abstract; it subsumes disparate uses under a common rubric. We can say the word "smattering" different times, by different people, but the meaning stays the same (more or less).

Sense, however, is right here and now, an emergent shape of bodies interacting just so.

Words make the distinction clear. The meaning of smattering is "a slight, superficial, or introductory knowledge of something." 

But the sense of "smattering" is clearly more, or other, than that. A smattering is a knowing that comes from multiple sources without cohering, a quasi random assemblage and influx of facts and concepts that don't quite cohere into a sure, confident expertise. Smattering is not just superficial; it's scattered, seeking, the pieces not yet firmly glued together.

Of course, meaning shifts over time, too. Only it does so slowly. We are living in a time of accelerated shifts in meaning as we write so much in new contexts, with new technologies and constraints — texts, emails, tweets, posts. The word "literally" has shifted meaning rather quickly, coming to mean an emphatic "really" rather than a firm, even absolute, tethering to the real. 

 Much happens in the sense of things, the sense of words.



spigot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
spigot said...

Etymology for me is the process of restoring that vitality to words, connecting them to sense (image, smell, etc.) and so to the dynamic nature of that sense-object as a thing with its own intricacies, metonymies (associations), implicit contexts.

I mean take smatter:

smatter (v.)
early 15c., "talk idly, chatter; talk ignorantly or superficially," of uncertain origin, perhaps imitative. Similar forms are found in Middle High German smetern "to chatter" and Swedish smattra "to patter, rattle," and compare Danish snaddre "chatter, jabber," Dutch snateren, German schnattern "cackle, chatter, prattle." Related: Smattered; smattering.

Smatter patter rattle cackle chatter prattle jabber (and look at their assonance. Incredible how that "r" turns prattle to a slow jabbering, patter like a soft rattling.

And then chatter:

early 13c., chateren "to twitter, gossip," earlier cheateren, chiteren, of echoic origin. Compare Dutch koeteren "jabber," Danish kvidre "twitter, chirp."

Cackling is from cacchination, which is "loud or excessive laughter".

And all this taken together really explains Twitter and I suppose an entire mode of knowledge: Playful, aphoristic - the knowledge of laughter. Also interesting to consider its relation to gossip, which is historically a feminised knowing and which has historically been considered not worth shit by the usual suspects - priests, scholars, authorities. And all this goes back to the vast eternal conflict between Horizontality and Verticality, networks and depths. You'd love 'Rabelais and His World' by Mikhail Bakhtin - love it.

And on words as choreographies - interesting to consider that an extension of the way in which we can inhabit a person's state of mind, affect, whatever by imitating their posture, movements.

Unknown said...

Hey Coffeen,

I was planning on leaving a comment to your "Sense and Meaning" podcast, but the page on your blog with the comments is headed by a podcast widget that is playing your newest podcast (on "The Graduate"). I AM able to find the Sense and Meaning podcast by going through some channels, but I won't bother leaving a comment if the page on which the comment appears doesn't include relevant podcast. Can you fix this? You are clever, fix it. I want to be part of the conversation.

Daniel Coffeen said...

My bad....well, mine and technology's bad. Fixed! Join! Please!

Unknown said...

Hey Coffeen: I was going to leave a comment--I had it all sketched out-- but ultimately decided not to, for various reasons.

But I will at least mention that if you look up the Comicon panel for "The 100" on YouTube, near the end a fan (during the questioning period) uses the word smattering ("a smattering of depression") in the wrong way, but everyone is amused and impressed and the MC even closes the talk on that note. (Like you were saying... you don't even have to know the meaning of the word smattering to use it.) I had a lot more to say.

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