Author Topic: The Etymological Fallacy  (Read 662 times)

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Offline Seth

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The Etymological Fallacy
« on: July 24, 2014, 06:30:27 PM »
Hello all. I came across this information as I was studying UR, and thought I would share it with you.

The Etymological Fallacy

Description: The assumption that the present day meaning of a word should be/is similar to the historical meaning.  This fallacy ignores the evolution of language and heart of linguistics.  This fallacy is usually committed when one finds the historical meaning of a word more palatable or conducive to his or her argument.

Logical Form:

X is defined as Y.
X used to be defined as Z.
Therefore, X means Z.

Example #1:
Elba: I can't believe the art critic said my artwork is awful!
Rowena: He must have meant it in the old sense of the word -- that your artwork inspired awe!
Elba: Yes!  That makes sense now!
Explanation: "Awful" did once mean "to inspire awe", but there are very few, if any, people who continue to use the term in this way.  Just because it makes her feel better, it cannot be assumed.

Example #2:
Steve: I think it is fantastic that you and Sylvia are getting married!
Chuck: I cannot believe you think my getting married only exists in my imagination!  That is what fantastic means, after all.
Explanation: Yes, it is true "fantastic" was once most commonly used as existing only in the imagination, but common use of this word has a very different definition.

Exception: If a bogus, "modern", definition is made up by a questionable source, that won't make all other sources "historical".

http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/81-etymological-fallacy


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The etymological fallacy is a genetic fallacy that holds, erroneously, that the present-day meaning of a word or phrase should necessarily be similar to its historical meaning. This is a linguistic misconception, and is sometimes used as a basis for linguistic prescription. An argument constitutes an etymological fallacy if it makes a claim about the present meaning of a word based exclusively on its etymology. This does not, however, show that etymology is irrelevant in any way, nor does it attempt to prove such.

A variant of the etymological fallacy involves looking for the "true" meaning of words by delving into their etymologies, or claiming that a word should be used in a particular way because it has a particular etymology. A similar concept is that of false friends.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymological_fallacy

Offline Seth

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2014, 06:44:42 PM »
BTW, this is not to suggest that etymology shouldn't be used in understanding the evolution of words, but as far as intended meaning, more study is needed than only looking at the etymology, like the cultural usage of the word at the time of speaking, the context of the sentences, how the word is used in other places etc etc.

Offline marie glen

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2014, 07:53:37 PM »


Very interesting! and makes alot of sense!!  :thumbsup: A very good thing to always keep in mind!
~ ~ ~
Where does it say no repentance after death? being resurrected still in their sins (the 2nd) during age of Judgment, there's sure to be weeping and wailing & for those habitual despisers of God, gnashing of teeth--who may make their way to LOF
~Is weeping & wailing the beginning of the redemptive process??
~ ~ ~
The historist elements in the Bk of Rev shed light on the futurist! (Like13:13, same as, 6:12-17, but both  begin/historist & end/futurist r described here so early! a clever lock; & parts of ch12-hist; ch's 10,12,13 = inserts)
~imo we are at 7:1 a pause of 6:12/splitting of atom

Offline micah7:9

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2014, 08:14:01 PM »
 :thumbsup: :iagree: :dsunny:
Mic 7:8  Thou dost not rejoice over me, O mine enemy, When I have fallen, I have risen, When I sit in darkness Jehovah is a light to me.

Offline Seth

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2014, 10:16:04 PM »
Yeah, it's just something to watch out for. Not to discredit the idea that etymology can provide insight, but that it cannot be the end-all to understanding how words were meant to be used. Etymology is a tool but every tool can be misused or misunderstood.

Offline eaglesway

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2014, 10:34:21 PM »
morphology is the science of how words change in there meaning and usage over long periods of time. The old English word "hate" for instance, did not carry with it the connotations of vindictive personal animosity that it does today, but normally meant to strongly reject or dislike something.

Also, as in the evolution of the word Sheol(which is not morphology because the words for the subject changed).

Hebrew and Aramaic,"sheol" - the unseen, a euphimism for the state of being after death and abode of the dead became

Greek, Hades -  the abode of the dead in Greek mythology, a place of cold darkness ruled by the god Hades - became

Latin, Inferno - the abode of the dead in Roman mythology ruled by the god Pluto and later popularized by Dante as a place with 9 levels of increasing torment- the word itself meaning roiling flames, and gradually incorporating gehenna(rabinnical Hebrew- gehinnom, the valley of hinnom) and becoming

English/Danish, Hell - the abode of the dead in Norse mythology ruled by the goddess Hel.

By the time sheol and gehenna were rendered into "Hell" they has picked up the mythological and philosophical baggage of three cultures that were intensely anti Judeo/Christian in nature. Three big steps and 1500 years to "Hell", and a mythological doctrine based on a word that never existed full of concepts that never entered the mind of God or the scriptures.



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Offline Seth

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2014, 11:08:14 PM »
That's why we have to do more than study either the etymology or morphology of a word to come to a conclusion about what the author meant.

As we study words, it's important to remember that when come to a belief about the meaning, we are essentially saying "This is what the person MEANT by using the word." We are coming to a belief about the state of mind of another person.

Sometimes people mean to use the words as they originally mean, and sometimes they use words according to how they morphed. We can come to a conclusion about what we think was intended, by doing more than simply studying the etymology of a word, but also looking at the culture, and behaviors of the speakers.

Take HADES as an example. I believe Paul is using the word according to it's original meaning, AS OPPOSED to his contemporaries who used HADES to mean a mythological underworld. Why? Because Paul wasn't greek. He was teaching from the Old Testament. I can trace the thought process from Hebrews to Greek translation of Hebrew concepts.

HOWEVER, if I was analyzing the words of Plato discussing HADES, and looked only at the etymology of the word, my conclusion about Plato's views on hades, would be completely wrong. I have to understand that Plato was probably using hades according to its morphology.

This is an example of how we cannot rely simply on either morphology or etymology to define what we believe another person means by using a word.

Offline joeteekay

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #7 on: July 24, 2014, 11:43:00 PM »
Very good comments.

And what about the word translated Lucifer [light-bringer] in almost every English translation of the bible?  It was Jerome, creator of the Latin Vulgate, who translated the Hebrew word Heylel into the Latin word Lucifer. 

In A.D. 382, Pope Damasus commissioned the scholar Jerome to make an official revision of the Latin versions of the Bible that were floating around in the Roman Catholic Church.  He based it largely on the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible version that Origen had produced about 140 years earlier.   By A.D. 405, Jerome had completed his work; we know it today as "The Latin Vulgate" Bible—a fallible translation. It was almost the only version of the Bible in use throughout Europe for the next 1000 years. During that time, those who read the Bible associated the Latin "Lucifer" with the devil. Yet, this name is a serious mistranslation of the original Hebrew word "heylel".  It does not mean "light-bringer".

When the translators of the Bible into English came along, rather than translating the Hebrew into English, they substituted the true meaning with the already well-known Latin name "Lucifer", because on the surface this seemed to be a reasonably accurate translation. Yet, it is anything but accurate. The Hebrew "heylel" is only used once, but it is derived from the Hebrew root word "halal".   Halal is used 165 times, and translated into 13 different English words. The words so translated more than once are: "praise", "glory", "BOAST", "MAD", "shine", "FOOLISH", "FOOLS", "commended", and "RAGE".  That is an awful lot of various meanings.

In order to understand how "heylel" should be translated, we need to get it in the context of the point being made. The verses (13 to 14) of Isa. 14 contain blasphemous boasting. There is nothing positive which could be associated with bringing light in this context. The proper translation should be "Boaster" based upon the context (IMO).

Joe from Ottawa

Offline eaglesway

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #8 on: July 25, 2014, 01:40:39 AM »
That's why we have to do more than study either the etymology or morphology of a word to come to a conclusion about what the author meant.

As we study words, it's important to remember that when come to a belief about the meaning, we are essentially saying "This is what the person MEANT by using the word." We are coming to a belief about the state of mind of another person.

Sometimes people mean to use the words as they originally mean, and sometimes they use words according to how they morphed. We can come to a conclusion about what we think was intended, by doing more than simply studying the etymology of a word, but also looking at the culture, and behaviors of the speakers.

Take HADES as an example. I believe Paul is using the word according to it's original meaning, AS OPPOSED to his contemporaries who used HADES to mean a mythological underworld. Why? Because Paul wasn't greek. He was teaching from the Old Testament. I can trace the thought process from Hebrews to Greek translation of Hebrew concepts.

HOWEVER, if I was analyzing the words of Plato discussing HADES, and looked only at the etymology of the word, my conclusion about Plato's views on hades, would be completely wrong. I have to understand that Plato was probably using hades according to its morphology.

This is an example of how we cannot rely simply on either morphology or etymology to define what we believe another person means by using a word.

 :iagree:

The true purpose of translation is to determine what was in the mind of the speaker at the time he was speaking and render it accurately in contemporary language.

Since the Hebrew language, culture and mindset was in the speakers mind (Paul, Peter, James, John, Jesus) the Hebrew language is the most important in my opinion, which is why I think the usage and meaning of "olam" in the OT is more important than the meaning and usage of "aionios" among the Greeks- since aionios is a translation of the original word olam which communicates more accurately the thoughts of the speakers in the scriptures.
The Logos is complete, but it is not completely understood. hellisamyth.com

Offline Seth

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #9 on: July 25, 2014, 01:47:22 AM »
I agree both Joeteekay and EW. Those are good examples of using and understanding etymology but going further to see how it applies and whether or not it applies. To your point about "aionios" I totally agree. In that case, the etymology boosts understanding, because we know that the Apostles needed to choose a word similar to "olam" and the fact that the word "aion" and "ios" put together, means "of an age" can help our understanding of why they thought it would be a good choice to use that word. What we shouldn't do is go into Strong's dictionary, pick out a few etymological points, and then substitute our own understanding as if we can say for sure that is what the speaker meant. Then, we are just guessing and making things up and committing a fallacy.

At the end of the day, we are coming to a belief about what the speaker is saying, but hopefully that belief is based on a wider variety of evidence then just dissecting word parts and putting them together anew on a whim.

Offline eaglesway

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2014, 01:51:55 AM »
I am not so sure the apostles unilaterally chose aionios. I am not convinced all of the original epistles were written in Greek.

But I do get your point :o)
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Offline Seth

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2014, 01:55:32 AM »
Eaglesway = Can of worms + Can opener  :laughing7:

Offline eaglesway

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #12 on: July 25, 2014, 02:03:37 AM »
 :iagree:
The Logos is complete, but it is not completely understood. hellisamyth.com

Offline eaglesway

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Re: The Etymological Fallacy
« Reply #13 on: July 25, 2014, 02:04:07 AM »
 :laugh:
The Logos is complete, but it is not completely understood. hellisamyth.com