Only ever

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Only ever

Post by Phil White » Sat Oct 03, 2020 1:54 pm

Here's a question for navi:

I was talking to a friend yesterday and said:
"I only ever buy eggs for my dog."

Did I mean
  1. Eggs are the only thing I buy for my dog.
  2. Eggs are the only special treats I buy for my dog.
  3. Eggs are the only thing I buy to treat my dog when she has diarrhoea.
  4. I never buy eggs for myself, only for my dog.
I know what I meant, but without the context of the conversation, is it possible for you to know what I meant?

The answer, by the way, is quite complex.
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Non sum felix lepus

Re: Only ever

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Oct 03, 2020 2:43 pm

e. I only buy eggs for my dog, never for my neighbour's dog.
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Re: Only ever

Post by trolley » Sat Oct 03, 2020 4:22 pm

F. If I need eggs, I always steal them. I only buy eggs for my dog.
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Re: Only ever

Post by trolley » Sat Oct 03, 2020 6:47 pm

G. No one else buys eggs for my dog.
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Re: Only ever

Post by Phil White » Sat Oct 03, 2020 7:03 pm

Not the point of the exercise, but good fun nevertheless.
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Re: Only ever

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Oct 03, 2020 8:47 pm

h. I only buy eggs for my dog, because after you persuaded me to buy saveloys for her (having told me how much your schnauzer loves them) she was violently sick.
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Re: Only ever

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Oct 03, 2020 9:21 pm

Latest from the Wirral Globe:
I'M A SHELL-OUT, ADMITS POTTY POOCH-LOVING PENSIONER

A local sheepdog owner has admitted he usually feeds his dog a dozen eggs a day. "People tell me I'm being eggstravagant," said pipe-smoking Phil White (87⅔), from Wallasey. "I must be spending at least £1.50 a day on eggs for Sheba, and with today's cost of living that's no yolk. But she absolutely adores them, so I'm happy to do it, even though it is costing me the whites of my eyes. Personally, I prefer them hard-boiled like myself, but she likes them runny, which keeps her running as well. Unfortunately there aren't any sheep around here any more for her to chase. I think she got the last one about two years ago."

The Greater Liverpool Pedigree Sheep and Lamb-Fanciers' Association (GLIPSHELFA) issued a press release yesterday threatening to "set our dogs on anyone who puts their mitts on our muttons". "No comment," puffed Mr White, refusing to comment.
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Re: Only ever

Post by navi » Sat Oct 03, 2020 11:05 pm

I only ever buy eggs for my dog. Everything else I give to my dog, I steal.

It is amazing! I love it and hate it at the same time! Mind-boggling.

Thank you all, especially Phil!
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Re: Only ever

Post by Phil White » Sat Oct 03, 2020 11:38 pm

The answer to the original question, given the original 4 alternatives, is that only sentence c is strictly true, but that I meant to convey the meaning of sentence d.

If my dog gets a dose of the trots, I trot off to the supermarket and buy eggs. She then has rice and poached eggs for a couple of days. I never buy any medication to treat a dose of the trots.

However, the intended meaning when I spoke the sentence was meaning d. Meaning d is not strictly true, however. Every two or three years, I suddenly fancy eating an egg, so I will buy half a dozen and usually end up throwing at least 3 away. But as a rule, I don't eat or buy eggs. Sentence d is a mild exaggeration, but it was my intended meaning.

The entire telephone conversation with a friend of mine would have revealed the intended meaning, although the full context only comes after the sentence itself:

Me: Hi there, John. Can I call you back in half an hour? I have to scoot down to the supermarket to get some eggs.
John: I thought you didn't eat eggs.
Me: I don't really. I only ever buy eggs for Sheba.
John: You spoil that dog.
Me: No. She only has eggs when she gets the Kathmandu quickstep. Binds her up ...

The intention is clear. I want to say that I never buy eggs for myself. Only for my dog. But this is not actually true. It would be true to say that eggs are the only thing I buy to treat Sheba when she has the trots. But that was not what I was trying to say.

In other words, we cannot even rely on the truth or otherwise of an interpretation to establish the "meaning" of an utterance.

Fascinating thing, language, innit?
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Re: Only ever

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Oct 04, 2020 5:05 am

Phil White wrote: Sat Oct 03, 2020 11:38 pmIn other words, we cannot even rely on the truth or otherwise of an interpretation to establish the "meaning" of an utterance.

Fascinating thing, language, innit?
It's as fascinating as the people who use it.

The gap between what is said and what is actually meant has its counterpart in the gap in understanding that is the result of the difference between my knowledge and experiences and your knowledge and experiences, between my values and your values, between my motives and your motives, and between my worldview and your worldview. All of which has to be mediated by the imperfect and variously interpretable ways we use language and gesture (among other modes of communication) in order to get our intended meaning across.

Given all that, it's a wonder the world hasn't descended into a seething cauldron of misunderstanding, suspicion, violent conflict and competing visions.... Oh, wait...
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Re: Only ever

Post by Phil White » Sun Oct 04, 2020 10:33 am

Erik_Kowal wrote: Sun Oct 04, 2020 5:05 am Given all that, it's a wonder the world hasn't descended into a seething cauldron of misunderstanding, suspicion, violent conflict and competing visions.... Oh, wait...
That is an excellent point. The default expectation with which we approach daily life is that language is a reasonably precise tool that is used to communicate directly and efficiently. The reality is far different. The use of language to convey meanings other than those indicated by the words used (cf dog-whistle politics), to obfuscate with weasel words and to propagate outright misinformation has eroded any trust people may have had in the utterances of those in whom we should be able to put our faith. The deliberate exploitation of the shortcomings of language as our primary means of communication foments a very deep uncertainty and unease, which is, in many cases, the very purpose of the communication.

Not that this is anything new, though. We are just far more widely exposed to it than we used to be.
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Re: Only ever

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Oct 05, 2020 6:54 am

Phil White wrote: Sun Oct 04, 2020 10:33 amThe deliberate exploitation of the shortcomings of language as our primary means of communication foments a very deep uncertainty and unease, which is, in many cases, the very purpose of the communication.

Not that this is anything new, though. We are just far more widely exposed to it than we used to be.
When the internet was unleashed on the wider world in the early 1990s following its beginnings in academia and the US Department of Defense, it was touted by its civilian promoters as a fantastic new tool for sharing knowledge and information, and for generally bridging the gaps in human communication both within and between societies.

What has happened in practice?

Well, obviously the invention of propaganda and misinformation long predates the internet. However, while the internet has made possible many undeniably useful and genuinely informative projects (as I hope visitors to Wordwizard will agree), and has given ordinary people platforms for expressing their views that they never had before -- and to that extent has had a democratizing effect -- it has also enabled and encouraged the turbocharged weaponization of information in the form of propaganda, mis- and disinformation, online harassment and trolling, scams, frauds, intrusive advertising, mob violence fuelled by rumours and false allegations, outsourcing of labour and manufacturing in a globalized race to the bottom, and intrusive surveillance by the State and commercial operations alike.

It has also made possible the rise of a relatively small number of gatekeeping organizations that have become extraordinarily powerful thanks to the concentration of their power to set the terms of access to information for the rest of us. These include both familiar players like Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Weibo, WeChat, Amazon and Alibaba, and a number of less familiar ones.

The rise of these new gatekeeping organizations has been largely at the expense of the dilution and enfeeblement of the more traditional gatekeepers of the news and information circulating in society, such as long-established newspapers and broadcast media, which have now found themselves suddenly competing for attention and resources with entities that exhibit minimal sense of responsibility over the information they mediate, but have the considerable financial and competitive advantage of requiring much less investment per user plus a massive income stream from advertising, part of which has substantially migrated from the traditional media.

(We can debate the extent to which the traditional media actually deserve special consideration, given their own decidedly blemished track record, not least of which is their tendency to support the status quo and the interests of the Establishment and the power of the State. Nowhere has this been made more obvious in recent times than in the shameful scapegoating of Julian Assange which even the former collaborators of Assange, The New York Times and The Guardian, have engaged in, motivated by their ultimate allegiance to -- and fear of -- the Establishment despite their progressive pretensions. But I think it is indisputable that any society that claims to be democratic needs independent investigative channels and mechanisms for checking up on and calling to account the wealthy and the powerful, whether they are individuals or institutions. It's most unfortunate that some of our best-known newspapers have also shown themselves to be devoid of backbone when they had to choose between their integrity and their fear of the wrath of the State.)

Anyway, once the potential of the internet and its information platforms for influencing and/or informing/misinforming the public had become clear, politicians, politically active organizations of all kinds and individuals with axes to grind naturally came to embrace and exploit the new medium.

The result of this enhanced free-for-all is that the bad information is driving out the good, just as counterfeit money drives genuine currency from circulation. The purveyors of sensationalist news, entertaining or otherwise compelling propaganda, unfounded conspiracy theories and celebrity trivia are sucking the oxygen from the media space. They are adept at grabbing the public's attention, with the result that despite the ready availability today of previously unthinkable amounts of information, a huge proportion of voters are poorly informed about most of the issues that will affect them when they cast their ballots -- if they can overcome their sense of alienation sufficiently to bother doing so.

Partly this is because they have stopped seeking that information, finding it hard to know which of it can be relied on and which cannot, so they give up even trying. Partly, it is because many are so busy with other priorities such as commuting, working, shopping and family commitments that they simply don't have the time (and/or education, in some cases) to absorb and evaluate the never-ending stream of information about weightier and more complex issues. So they choose to focus on the more entertaining, less cognitively demanding stuff that is out there.

My conclusion is therefore that far from democratizing our decision-making and giving a voice to ordinary citizens who previously (often with good reason) felt shut out of it, the debasing and shaping of information that the internet has facilitated has in practice given society's power brokers unparalleled opportunities to bamboozle people, to force or encourage policies and decisions that act against the interests of the vast majority of citizens, and to do so without consulting them in any meaningful way.

Rather, the power to decide has been delivered into fewer and fewer hands that are increasingly resistant to any kind of informed public accountability, if we are to judge by the popping up all over the globe like mushrooms after rain of erratic, autocratic and dictatorial leaders. The rise of populism is partly a function of voters' mistrust and confusion plus a desire for simple solutions to complex problems, and partly a revolt against mediocre previous governance; but in any event, it is no coincidence that the trend towards dictatorial rule has been developing more or less in parallel with the ever-increasing intrusion of the internet and its ancillary technologies into our lives.

Today, most of those autocratic leaders are at least pretending to be merely responding to the democratically expressed will of the people, but some are discovering that they can drop that fig leaf and feel confident they can get away with it. This is because the surveillance, control and anti-political resistance technologies that our societies have been so busy developing and installing (also with the help of the internet) mean that once in power, these leaders are extremely difficult for their citizens to remove.

Regrettably, I see no way in which the internet genie and its undesirable by-products can be stuffed back in the bottle, especially as some states start to develop their own domestic internet equivalents. As with other intractable situations such as runaway climate change and worldwide ecosystem collapses, it is a predicament, not a problem.
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