001 – I can’t define my words

Here are some words meshed together by me. Starting from the basics: what are these things I am mashing together? What are these things we call words? Intuitively, we all know what a word is. This is a word. Iawjebnfi isn’t, or is it?

I was hopeful that I could find a neat definition of what a word is, instead I learnt that “there have been many proposed criteria for identifying words. However, no definition has been found to apply to all languages. Dictionaries categorise a language’s vocabulary into lemmas. These can be taken as an indication of what constitutes a “word” in the opinion of the writers of that language

Words are ephemeral containers that people use to communicate. Words are social. They are the basic unit of communication, much like steps are the basic unit of movement and breaths are the basic unit of life.

When we stare boldly at life and attempt to hold it logically in our minds, words are the anchors of structure we hold onto. I deluded myself that I was starting from the basics. Pressured by the resistance to write, I was hopelessly trying to hold everything in my mind and make sense of it.

The word hopelessly came to rescue me. It reminded me that I cannot fit everything in my mind nor in this essay. It seduced me to let go of the urge to meticulously explain why it is so hard to write accurately about human meaning.

I am seduced but not defeated. While I cannot explain meticulously, I can still describe how it feels. Describe the pain of a mind attempting to structure and reduce the overflowing branchiness of what people think, feel, say and do.

Trying to understand humans feels like being Sisyphus constantly rolling the immense boulder uphill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top. Humans are constantly changing. Everyone has different preferences, every season presents different memes and every generation adopts a different jargon.

Whenever we put our finger onto something we may want to look at the finger itself too. Whenever we examine human meaning we are exposed to vicious self-references which degenerate reductions into infinite-loops.

Yet, like Sisyphus has nothing but his rock, we have nothing but ourselves. We have no choice but to try to understand ourselves no matter how hopeless or ephemeral our understanding is.

As an example of this contortedness, I can ask myself what have you, dear reader, understood of this essay so far. Is the topic I am writing about too complex and ephemeral for me to communicate? Should I focus instead on something simpler and more straightforward? Or is it that my mind is confused about this topic and I may be able to write about it more clearly if I first think about it for some time?

All these possibilities have some truth in them and none is certain, because the meaning of these words themselves is fluctuant and metamorphic and you, dear reader, are as well.

At this point, having looked at a vivid picture of the undefinability of human meaning, it may be natural to shift our attention from what is to what to do about it. Here, there’s a nice little paradox that may come to our rescue. It takes many forms and two that I know are

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change

Carl Rogers

The reason you want to be better, is the reason why you aren’t

Alan Watts

which in our case translates to “if we accept that meaning is temporary and fluctuant and stop trying to shoehorn it into a structure, then we can experience understanding and meaningfully act upon it”.

Or to put it more concretely, we can leave behind the question of what words are and focus instead on what does this word means to you? what words do you want to speak and why? what words you are grateful for having heard? There is no central question to ask about words, only many interconnected and fluctuating ones and I am curious to hear which one would you, undefinable dear reader, like to ask?

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