Thursday, January 24, 2008

A linguistic observation

This was noted in the lecture for the class I'm TAing for. Apparently people are now using "argue" in a way that mirrors how most philosophers would use "argue against". For example, a youngster in Pittsburgh would say "no one can argue that I'm in Pittsburgh" and want to be interpreted as saying that no one could present an argument against the claim that he wasn't in Pittsburgh. I would say that "argue" is adopting the meaning of "refute", but another shift is the use of "refute" to mean deny. For example, Bill refuted my premise that the sky was blue by saying that the sky was not blue. Bill didn't present an argument demonstrating that my claim was wrong; he just asserted that it was. "I refute you thusly: not-p." I was sort of aware that the latter shift was occurring, but the former was completely off my radar.

5 comments:

Ole Thomassen Hjortland said...

Never heard the former one before either. Now, I'm not a native speaker, but this struck me as a bit surprising. I wonder if the trend is the same in the UK, though.

Aidan said...

Yeah, I've never encountered either of these trends, in either the UK or in Texas.

Shawn said...

I wouldn't have believed the former but the professor showed us a quote from an article in a Pittsburgh newspaper that featured it. I think it was said by one of President Bush's daughters, which would indicate that it has spread to parts of Texas.

Hecky said...

Why are we calling it a "shift" or "trend" when people start using words in a wrong way? Just because a few half-wits begin speaking poorly, we don't need to revise the dictionaries.

Kevin Schutte said...

I don't think the use exactly mirrors "argue against". I think the use is rather a shortening of "argue over whether (or not)". "No one can argue that I'm in Pittsburgh" would then be "No one can argue over whether I am in Pittsburgh or not". On this reading, an argument isn't acceptable/permissible when it's conclusion is obvious.