What’s in a Word?

Today we started off by going over what we had talked about in class this week. Specifically we focused on Derrida’s “Différance” article. We discussed how you can’t define what “difference” or “differance” mean because they’re neither a word or a concept. “Differance” is a word that Derrida made up to make a point. Originally, we though that point had to do with the concept of binary oppositions, such as male vs. female, light vs. dark, good vs. evil, etc. These binary oppositions are often considered a little sexist because male is often aligned with the “left” side or the side that has words such as light and good where female is aligned with words like dark and evil. Historically, this has cast women in a bad light and they’ve been allotted an inferior place in society as a result. Women were the opposite of men, incidentally men were the “better half” in this instance.

Why do people follow it? Eventually that question was bound to come up. Why do people just assume that men are aligned with certain characteristics, and women are aligned with the opposite ones? Why can Derrida make up a word and we are learning about it as if it’s an accepted truth? Theoretically anyone could make up a word and we could just go with it. This is much the way that philosophy is created. Someone comes up with an idea, and if enough people subscribe to it, then it becomes a philosophy. Now we do realize that philosophers don’t just come up with an idea out of no where and declare it as truth. Philosophies are built off of the existing ideas of other philosophers and the human experience. This enables people to argue for or against a philosopher’s theories because there’s evidence to back it up, with a new word, there is nothing to back it up with because it is essentially nothing. At this point in our conversation we remembered talking in class about how “language is not a subject of the speaking subject, the subject is inscribed in the language and is a subject of the language”. Based on this, we decided that in the end language doesn’t provide us with anything, that language isn’t anything.

Our discussion began to take a turn at this point away from our class discussion and into a discussion that we spent a lot of time talking over and around in circles. We began to talk about how meaningless words are because they’re just characters on paper. But then we remembered that at the end of one of our classes, Dr. Stoddard was making a point about how the spaces and the margins of the paper matter. When we talked it over, we began to understand what she meant. The written word needs spaces because without the space you wouldn’t be able to read the words. Everythingwouldlooklikethis, it would be a meaningless glob of letters. Spaces give the words meaning because it allows them to exist separate from each other. Consequently, spaces are given meaning because of words, since if words didn’t need to exist, then spaces would be unnecessary. The space is the negative to the word’s positive. It ties back to our earlier discussion of binary oppositions. While light and dark are opposing forces, they can’t exist without each other to validate their existence. The same is true for words and spaces.

We made up an example of this concept for ourselves to make sure that we understood what we were saying. We see the color blue on the coat because the coat is absorbing everything but that color, the color blue is being reflected back to us. While blue is the only color we see, all the other colors on the spectrum need to be present to absorb into the coat, so that we can see the exact shade of blue that we’re seeing.

So what does all this mean? What does it mean in terms of language? We had decided earlier that language doesn’t have any meaning, but where do we get meaning from when we read a passage if not the language? We wondered if meaning resided in individual letters and that was why Derrida chose to switch an “a” for an “e”. But we decided that meaning doesn’t come from something that small and concrete. Meaning is derived from our notions of ideas or our perceptions of ideas. Language helps us to express our ideas but the meaning is drawn from what our perception of that idea is, not what the language says that idea is. Can a word be an idea? Of course. But can it? A word is just a word, but our perception of a word is an idea and that idea is the meaning of the word. To tie back into the blue example, our interpretation of the word blue, is the idea of blue.



Notes were taken by Amelia Kunz and everyone was in attendance today.

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