self-describing words

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self-describing words

Post by Archived Topic » Wed Jan 02, 2002 3:39 am

Does anybody know of a word for words that are an example of themselves? The word 'noun' is a noun, the word 'word' is a word, the word 'grandiloquent' is quite grandiloquent and 'sesquipedalian' is definitely sesquipedalian.
Submitted by Nicklas Chapman (London - England)
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self-describing words

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 3:53 am

The word is "autological", Nicklas. The 'opposite' is "heterological", but now we're moving into the logic of sets - is "heterological" heterological - a famous paradox.
Reply from Edwin Ashworth (Oldham - England)
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self-describing words

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 4:08 am

Nicklas, These are called autological words (autologs) – words having the property they denote, words that describe themselves. The opposite of an autological word is heterological word (heterologs) – a word not having the property it denotes. You wont find ‘autological’ and ‘heterological’ in most dictionaries although they did first appear in 1926 and are listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (see quote below). And Douglas Hofstadter's discussed ‘autological in his 1979 book ‘Gödel, Escher, Bach.’

Some further examples of AUTOLOGS are (in addition to your good ones of ‘noun, ‘grandiloquent,’ and ‘sesquipedalian’): English, polysyllabic, pentasyllabic, unhyphenated, understandable, visible, terse, descriptive, intelligible, unambiguous, pronounceable, readable, written, common, meaningful, definable, describable, repeatable, translatable, classifiable, memorizable, forgettable, unphonetic, unique, real, existent, post-Renaissance, Latinate, finite, avoidable, sibilant, asexual, numberless, harmless, uninspiring, unabbreviated, abecedarian, wee, antonym, thing, concept, abbr., unabbreviated, inoffensive, one, letters, nonpalindromic, UPPERCASE, CAPITALIZED.

Some examples of HETEROLOGS are: Italian, French, capitalized, long, tentacled, mono-syllabic, verb, oral, invisible, red, preposition, circular, misspelled, fat, truncated, unpronounceable, vowelless, question, backwards.

An interesting question to ask is if ‘autological’ is itself autological and if ‘heterological’ is itself heterological. If you assume that you know what ‘auto’ and ‘logical’ mean, so that you know that the word means self-sensical, then it could be considered autological. ‘Heterological,’ on the other hand is a bit more problematic. If you assume that it is not heterological, then it is not self-descriptive, which would mean that it is. So if it isn’t, it is! – and that’s a problem. If you go the other way and assume that it is heterological, then it is non-self-descriptive, which tells you that heterological doesn’t describe heterological, which means that it isn’t. So if it is, it isn’t! – and that’s also a problem! Sort of reminds one of an Escher staircase painting, doesn’t it?

< 1926 “Let us call adjectives whose meanings are predicates of them, like ‘short’, AUTOLOGICAL; others HETEROLOGICAL.”—‘Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society,’ F. P. Ramsey, XXV. page 358>

(Oxford English Dictionary, The Word Spy, http://www.stanford.edu/~segerman/autological.html )
___________________

Ken G – June 22, 2004


Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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self-describing words

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 4:22 am

Formal, synthetic, unique, wee, writable, used, usefull, anagramatic, harmless, sophisticated, li'l, superfluous

There's a few for ya. Ken got the rest of the obvious ones. There are twice as many that are debateable like iffy, fanciful, chatty, dreamy, wordy, terse, short, Pavlovian.

And then the SUPER debateable ones like unfinish, mispelt, tall, parallel, final.

Have fun with those!!!
Reply from Matty Whipple (Tucson - U.S.A.)
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self-describing words

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 4:37 am

Another interesting one is "repeated," but it only qualifies if you use it twice :)

repeated
repeated
Reply from Matty Whipple (Tucson - U.S.A.)
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self-describing words

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 4:51 am

OOOOOO!!!! I thought of another one just a moment ago: Literally.

It came to me while I was pondering how often people use it incorectly. Sportscasters are perhaps the most guilty. "He LITERALLY ripped his head off on that play!"

It's not just ill-used, it's used in a context completely opposite of it's actual meaning! I mean, come on, that's horrible! It's not like you said strong, but you meant ephemeral. This goes far beyond a simple slip of the tongue. And it's not just sportscasters, people do this everywhere. "Dude, I was hanging out with my buddy last night, and he did that dance he does with the viking hat. It was so funny I LITERALLY shit my pants."

Totally understandable, right? After all, poeple shit their pants every day, don't they?

No. I will not have it. I'm writing Al Micheals.
Reply from Matty Whipple (Tucson - U.S.A.)
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self-describing words

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 5:05 am

Wow, I love some of these additional examples. "Post-Renaissance" has a wonderful inevitability about it as the term could not have been defined in advance of the Renaissance. For some reason unhyphenated also tickles me. How about unapostrophised and adjectival? Maybe the word 'transatlantic' given that the word is valid in British English and American English?

I think the examples that are specific to the instance are less fun, but if they're allowed then how about autolog 'typed' and heterolog 'hand-written'?

But of what is anagrammatic an anagram? I can't make any.
Reply from Nicklas Chapman (London - England)
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self-describing words

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 5:20 am

Would gerunded or gerundifying qualify?
Reply from Ray Towle (Peachtree City - U.S.A.)
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