How To Use Words Meaning of Words

There's Soup and then there's Soup!

Korzybski’s book “Science and Sanity” was published in 1933 and is still in print. His theme is ‘the misuse of words can make us sick.’ He is very knowledgeable in many different fields. If you only want one book on words and their use this is the one that will give you most satisfaction. I’ve read it several times. What we must remember is that “The word is not the thing itself”.

When my grandsons were 8 and 9 years old, I went to have lunch with them and my daughter. I asked her to make soup. I took with me four pieces of paper with ‘soup’ written on them.

I took four plates and spoons out and put them on the table. I placed the pieces of paper in each one. “Now boys you can eat your soup”.

They looked at me, then at the plates and then at their mother. “Eat your soup up” I said. They were dumbstruck. Finally they said “What soup?” “It is on your plates” I said. There was a short silence and my grandsons could say nothing. I took up my paper and put it in my mouth. “Mmm, it doesn’t taste a bit like soup. But the paper tells us it is soup, doesn’t it?” Finally the penny dropped and the boys laughed. They got the message, the name of the soup is not the same as the soup itself. I removed the paper and put the real soup into the four bowls. The boys roared with laughter. This is the kind of experiment that teaches children and makes them laugh at the same time: always a good combination.

Another day I was working with a client who had recovered from a severe illness after an operation for cancer. She had been looking forward to Christmas. “How did it go?” I said. She replied “I was so disappointed!” I tried to understand. She struggled to say why. “I wanted this Christmas to be this way and that way but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted it to be the ultimate Christmas!” I said “The ultimate Christmas?” “Yes” she said. My mind clicked . “Ah I see. The ultimate Christmas could mean the best one you ever had, or it might have been your last one.” This is another example of enantiodromia, where one word can have two contrary meanings.” YES!” she said loudly. “Why did that upset you? I said. “Well. I wanted everyone there to realise that this might have been my last Christmas, but they all carried on the same as usual.”

Two weeks later she came to see me again. She said she thought about it and said yes, she had enjoyed Christmas very much. She realised that she couldn’t expect her close friends and family to be as excited as she was after her recovery. No-one else could understand exactly the depth of her experience. Moreover it is quite understandable that they might have thought it would be tactless to bring up the feelings about her illness again.