@ K. 1997
When one concept in a natural language tightens its meaning
other concepts compensate by loosening.
Back in the early days of Mad and Panic comics, one of them had a page lampooning comic book ads. One of the ads was illustrated by a pair of cartoons of a fat lady before and after donning the product: a corset. The “before” lady was as fat as only the illustrators of those great graphic originals could make her: she was ringed with fat rolls something like the Michelin tire man. The same fat “lady” — same cartoon lips, eyes, jowls and rolls of fat, in the “after” illustration, was as svelte as any of the belles in Gone with the Wind from her pubis to her bosom, but all that didn’t fit had ballooned horribly. Fifteen chins had become thirty-six. Her belly was redistributed down to her already frightening thighs. The rest of her torso oozed up and out from her bodice like oatmeal cooked in too small a pan.
I asked Ann Gaines of EC Publications if I could get a scan of it to share with you here. She didn’t recognize it to be from Mad. So it must have been Panic. Or Cracked. One of the imitators. (I’d kept my old Mads for decades through dozens of moves, many of them from one elevatorless sixth-floor walk-up to another. (Ah, student days. Mine have never ended.) But I finally yielded to my wife’s importuning, shuttling from Maine back to New York in 1969 or 1970, and recycled them.)
The linguistic illustration I’d had in mind was Thomas Jefferson’s declaration that all men were created equal, made while he kept slaves. How do we scan that, Jeff? by making it all the more arbitrary who qualifies as “man”! What tyrant couldn’t make the same claim so long as he controlled the definition of the terms? All men were equal in bad King John’s day so long as you exempt the king on the one side (as being divine) and the peasants on the other side (as being animals).
This piece spun off from one of my 1997 Thinking as Mental Modeling pieces though the thoughts were worked out in the 1960s (posted at pkTools 2009 May 23). The universities didn’t understand a word I said then, and they haven’t since.
The context in the Mental Modeling piece was credit: the government and the banks can define your “credit” as whatever they’ve written down about you. The terms are neither fixed nor necessarily true.
2011 10 14 The concept relates to a point pk has long made about the law: with its tradition of dismissing frivolous lawsuits without careful examination. By a similar habit of thought the Brinks robbers can dismiss the police evidence as frivolous: so long as the thieves control the budget of time and money for examination. In kleptocracies the thieves always control the budgets. The Church can dismiss any suggestion that God’s name is Allah. The plantation owners can dismiss any hint that slaves might be human. The professors can dismiss as frivolous any evidence that Galileo saw satellites around Jupiter. … Just as the society of 1970 dismissed as frivolous my suggestions that an unregulated internet could displace state-run schools.