Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Freako-linguistics

Yesterday, Dubner over at Freakonomics posted about names and naming. His basic point is here in this excerpt:

It has always struck me that a lot of the things we do and use and see every day have names that aren’t very accurate or appropriate or idiomatic….I don’t mean to say that most invented common nouns are bad.

This is a common claim made by non-linguists, and all of us who have taught intro to linguistics courses have heard it ad nauseum. But when I read Dubner’s version of this old grumble, I was struck by two things. I understand complaining that a noun’s name is not accurate or not appropriate, but just what the hell does he mean not idiomatic?

Second, Dubner seems to think there is such a thing as a noun name that is NOT invented. Pray tell, Mr. Dubner, can you list some examples?

Okay, so it seems I get to add a third task for me to take up on this blog: a Lin 101 review of the arbitrariness of language. Jeeeez! I might have to brush up on Saussure. Ugh!

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