I was on the phone yesterday with your Mt. Lebanon classmate, Bill F. I think the last time you and I discussed Bill, we weren’t speaking, but now we are talking again. Anyway, he was asking about you and what you were doing, and I told him about your book and semantics. He then reminded me of a story I’d told him years ago – that’s the weird thing about Bill – he remembers everything from years ago, but he can’t remember what he did yesterday. I thought you might be interested in this.
My great-grandfather was a translator for the Prussian court. Not only was he present to translate at every discussion between visiting dignitaries speaking various languages, but also dignitaries who spoke the same language; i.e., German. He always told the family (he died before I was born) that there were probably more misunderstandings between folks speaking the same language than different ones, because of semantics. That example came driving home to Rosanne and me a few years ago.
Rosanne has a friend who grew up in East Germany – born and raised. They were in a German restaurant in Pittsburgh’s North Side (Max’s Allegheny Tavern) and when Frauke looked at the menu, she turned red as a stop sign and looked like she was going to pass out. Rosanne asked Frauke what was wrong, and she said, Einlauf soup is the matter. Rosanne asked, what’s the problem with Einlauf soup? Frauke replied that Einlauf meant enema where she came from! Why was Max’s serving enema soup, you might ask. The true definition of Einlauf means ‘something warm inside you’. I guess the semantics part of this is which end it goes in, depending on whether you’re from East or West Germany! So there’s an example of the semantics problem my great-granddad was talking about.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
I got an email the other day from my good friend Clayton Mitchum. Clayton's not very familiar with the GS lingo but his story shows the difference between verbal 'meanings' or definition (more the subject of traditional 'semantics') versus non-verbal evaluation, i.e., 'semantic [evaluational] reaction' the subject of general semantics. We respond to words, symbols, indeed any events in terms of such organism-as-a-whole reactions. Clayton gave me permission to post his email here: