Semantics...

How do you define words in conversation> Do you try and use words in conversation that the listener will understand? Do you use words that define the point you are trying to make in the dictionary? And which dictionary?

Most atheists will tell you that atheism means a lack of belief in something. Myself included. But when you look in the first two dictionaries that I checked... it's defined as meaning; "Someone who BELIEVES god does not exist."

Are there Christians working for these dictionaries trolling us? Can we have this reversed? Does it matter? Of course it matters. So what do we do about this?

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/atheist

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/atheist?s=t

Tags: atheist, definition, semantics

Views: 129

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

RE: Do you try and use words in conversation that the listener will understand?

I am assuming that you are discussing a conversation related to religion. I would say though that any conversation worth having should consider the comprehension level of the listener in order to communicate effectively. That is a basic requirement of ANY kind of communication. It is a waste of time to deliver a message that has no way of reaching its target audience.

RE: Most atheists will tell you that atheism means a lack of belief in something.

I might be on an island all my myself when I say this, but let's talk about these semantics, shall we?

Statement 1:

I do not believe god exists.

Statement 2:

I find no evidence to support the existence of god.

The atheists that I know would say the 2nd statement is more accurate. The reason being that it leaves a door open to the possibility of changing ones mind if presented with sound evidence. I don't think that a theist will naturally understand the difference, or absorb the change of emphasis, unless you explain it do them. It's perhaps an important distinction to make, but it's not "wrong" to say you don't believe a god exists either. To me the battle of semantics is child's play. It's not enough to debate someone on semantical inferences. I think it's a distinction to point out, but not something that carries any weight unless you can articulate the implications of it.

Christians made up the word and gave it a definition. My question, to non believers, who call themselves "a-theists", is why continue calling yourself that word, and try to change the definition? Why not say, no, I'm not that, and call yourself something different? That's what Huxley did.

"Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe." ~ Thomas Huxley

I told one lady I was an atheist, and she said, "Atheists don't exist.  You are an un-believer."  I said something like, "Call me whatever you want.  I certainly do exist, and I don't believe in any deities." What word gets used isn't as important as what is conveyed.  

I sometimes don't want to say, "I am an atheist" because of how inflammatory that might be in the conversation, and how much it might derail the flow of information exchange.  Sometimes, however, I love to make that statement, because it is just what is needed in the conversation.  

I wish people could get it straight what atheism means.  to be fair, I was confused about it for a long time, and I was one.  I am trying to educate Americans, at east, one person at a time.  I had one person say, after a coworker told her I am an atheist, "You can't be an atheist!  I know you.  You're a good person."  She is probably still praying for me.  I eventually told her she would have to take a number and get in line behind everybody else who had been trying to convert me for years, and I went on being the person she thought too good to be an atheist.  

Of course I use words my listeners will understand. To do otherwise is foolish. I don't often talk with academics; their polysyllabic language sails right past me.

People use dictionaries differently. Some say they describe how people use words; others say they prescribe how people are to use words.

Check Stuart Firestein's book Ignorance: How It Drives Science.

He says his emphasizing the lack of knowledge enthuses the kids in his high school classes.

How do you define words in conversation. Do you try and use words in conversation that the listener will understand?

It depends on the listener or reader. If I'm speaking to a child, someone I don't know well, or giving a presentation to an audience, I may use simpler words. If I'm writing I choose what I think is the best word for the intended meaning.

I figure I'm not responsible for the ignorance of others when I write. This puts me in a minority. Take a class on writing for technical, business and journalism audiences and you'll find an emphasis on simplicity, readability and clarity. The average newspaper, for instance, is written at an 8th grade reading level.

Do you use words that define the point you are trying to make in the dictionary?

Yes and fairly often. If I see someone using a word incorrectly or want to head off a quibble over semantics I may point out the definition as an explanation of the commonly understood meaning.

And which dictionary?

It depends on the word. Ask a given English professor what is the best dictionary and you'll almost certainly get the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for an answer. If not, it'll most likely be Merriam-Webster.

Most atheists will tell you that atheism means a lack of belief in something. Myself included. But when you look in the first two dictionaries that I checked... it's defined as meaning; "Someone who BELIEVES god does not exist."

Soft or weak atheism is the negative (or absent) statement: I don't believe in God. Hard or strong atheism is a positive claim: there is no God.

It's not surprising that some dictionaries fail to make this distinction. The OED does make it. Merriam-Webster does not.

Are there Christians working for these dictionaries trolling us?

It wouldn't surprise me. Atheists are the most hated and mistrusted minority in America. Expressing prejudice toward or attacking atheists falsely is not considered to be beyond the pale even among the mainstream media and high ranking public officials.

Can we have this reversed? Does it matter? Of course it matters. So what do we do about this?

A well-written letter that explains the blunder may help, assuming the lexicographer in question isn't a Jesus crackpot. A letter from a notable group, such as American Atheists or an author like Sam Harris, would be more convincing. You could write to one of them, explain your concerns and ask them to take up the letter writing cause.

RSS

Forum

Awe struck

Started by Davis Goodman in Small Talk. Last reply by Davis Goodman 46 minutes ago. 42 Replies

In Defense of ‘Islamophobia’

Started by Brian Daurelle in Society. Last reply by Davis Goodman 1 hour ago. 57 Replies

where when how who why ?

Started by aubrey knows nothing * in Small Talk. Last reply by Pope Beanie 1 hour ago. 6 Replies

Sunday Disassembly

Started by Reg The Fronkey Farmer in Society. Last reply by Unseen 9 hours ago. 12 Replies

Services we love!

We are in love with our Amazon

Book Store!

Gadget Nerd? Check out Giz Gad!

Advertise with ThinkAtheist.com

In need a of a professional web site? Check out the good folks at Clear Space Media

© 2014   Created by umar.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service