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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« Showing Without Telling | Main | Words Rubbing Together »


Giorgio Marchetti

Not always we say what we think or feel. Sometimes we do not and cannot find the right words; sometimes, for politeness, or some other purpose, we do not want to say everything we think or feel. The incident illustrated by Bolles is a beautiful instance of the latter type.

Not everything can be expressed through language: we do not have words for all feelings, sensations, colours, thoughts, etc. To express what we cannot express with words, we use some other means: gestures, hands, fingers, eyes, etc. This is certainly a handicap but sometimes, as in the incident, it can turn into an advantage. The handicap can be used instrumentally to hide something.

Nothing new, of course. But the incident described by Bolles (and also the message posted by Rose in “Mammals are active critters”) reminds us that it is not sufficient to analyze words and language at the pure lexical level. We should also analyze them at higher and different levels (for example, the pragmatic one, or the aesthetic one). We should also consider and account for all the other symbolic systems (gestures, for example).

In my opinion, we can analyze in attentional terms not only the lexical level, but also the other higher levels. To my knowledge, no serious and systematic attempt has been done by until now (as far as gestures are concerned, there is a notable exception: a book by Amietta and Magnani “Dal gesto al pensiero”, Franco Angeli, Milano).

We have just started to analyze the “lower”, most basic level: the lexical one. By lexical, I mean what Vyvyan Evans calls “the sanctioning sense”, that is, the “citation” sense or meaning that language users would be most likely to produce in response to the question: “What does the word X mean?”.

There is a lot of work to do. We are just at the beginning. If anyone is willing to participate, he or she will be welcome!

Giorgio Marchetti

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