Symbols are fine; we live by words, figures, pictures. But as Alfred Korzybski postulated seven decades ago, the symbol is not the thing itself: you cannot milk the word “cow,” and as he put it, “a map is not the territory.” Arthur Laffer’s famous curve drawn on a cocktail napkin offers some economists a nice shorthand guide to his supply-side idea, but it is not the theory itself. Today’s mind-bending surge toward the use of words about graphs and poll trends — even when presented in color on elaborate Power Point presentations — takes us steps away from reality. There must be a curve to illustrate that, and I say bend it way back.William Safire. A wise voice now silenced. But we still have the writings he left behind.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
William Safire Z'L
William Safire died on Sunday. (Z"L stands for zichrono l'vracha the Hebrew version of 'rest in peace' which literally means 'his memory for a blessing'. ) In his regular column for the New York Times, "On Language," Safire explored the latest fads and foibles in English usage. It was one of the main reasons I looked at the New York Times Magazine. He had an awareness of Korzybski's work and in his writing mentioned Korzybski and general semantics every so often. In one of his last columns entitled "bending the curve", he wrote: