The Humanity Of Words - online book

A Primer Of Semantics

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KORZYBSKI                                      99
Man alone continues to abstract in higher and higher orders, but sometimes with uncertain steps. Here are the four semantic errors which the vertical index can help us to avoid:
i. The verbal worldbonesis not the objective world bone2. The word "bone" is not the thing. And yet, Korzybski says, we are inclined to identify these two levels of abstraction.
I, myself, had an experience a few weeks ago that convinced me that under tension even the semanticist will fall into this trap. Jill, one of our girls, was in the hospital for diagnosis. We were terrified when the attending doctor told my medical husband that leukemia had not been ruled out of the blood picture. In talking with my husband, I just couldn't bring myself to say the word 'leukemia." The word itself was abhorrent, and wouldn't pass my lips. Now I can say it, and remember the blessed gulf between the word "leukemia" and the dread thingthe condition called leukemia.
Korzybski would, of course, call such behavior "unsane" because it identifies two levels of abstractionthe word and the thing.
The identification of word and thing (of two or more orders of abstraction) may throw some light on the effectiveness of advertising. We respond to ads, frequently, without a sober thought to the product on the floor. The ad that makes the greatest promise of satisfying a need is the one that "sells" us. One businessman told me that sales records show that our gullibility22 extends to the price tag. When we see one tag marked $206 and another marked $117 for
22 See Morris's Misuses of language: The Pitfall of Gullibility, Section 38 below.