The Humanity Of Words - online book

A Primer Of Semantics

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156                  THE HUMANITY OF WORDS
designating or appraising? The road? Me? We never know for sure.
Secretary of Defense Wilson was probably surprised at the intense appraisive response to his now famous "bird dog" remark. In 1954, when the draft quota was lowered, a good many men were looking for work. Wilson was asked if there was a possibility of placing defense contracts in the distressed areas. He replied that he had a lot of sympathy for people who were caught up in change, but, he said: "I've always liked bird dogs better than kennel-fed dogsthat will get out and hunt for food instead of sitting on their fannies and yelling/*
What wTas Wilson's intention when he used these signs? Here are the possibilities:
The words may have been informative in that he was reporting his preference for bird dogs rather than kennel-fed dogs. But in this context, this seems unlikely.
The words may have been valuative in that he was appraising bird dogs and kennel-fed dogs, and, by analogy, the workers who were out of jobs. And, in this context, this interpretation does not seem unlikely.
But, these words may have been used incitively to suggest that the men go out and look for jobs. And this, too, in this context, does not seem unlikely.
The interpreters of these remarks, the men who were out of work, considered these signs appraisors of themselves, sitting like dogs on their fannies and yelling. They saw red!
Wilson probably spoke without intending to give offense, and yet his words caused the whole country to resound with indignation and resentment ... As users of signs, we can never be sure just how a recipient will respond.
It is important to note, too, that we select designators