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“What Makes A Word Real?”

Have you ever sat down and wondered how words came to be, or how words such as brother suddenly become abbreviated into bro? In a TED Talk titled What Makes a Word “Real” by Anne Curzan, she discusses how the meaning of words have changed overtime due to various social influences. She argues how people use a word in different contexts adjusts its definition, and that people just make new words to compensate for new innovations in society. For example, some popular words she uses include “defriend” and “hangry.” Furthermore, she points out that none of these “slang” words are in the modern day dictionaries, despite their popular usage. Curzan then goes on and asks the audience why we do not question the context within the dictionary, as we are taught to question all resources in an academic context. Most people do not realize that the dictionary has authors, and that it does not just appear out of thin air. In sum then, Curzan’s TED Talk forces the audience to be more attentive of the words they use, and that it does not take a dictionary to make a word real.

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Arguments: The Natural State of Humanity

Argument exists everywhere. Through your words, body posture, facial expressions, the clothes you wear, and much more, a statement is made. In his Winning Arguments, Fish argues that argument is inevitable. More specifically, he claims that argument will be ever present because we do not live in a utopia with zero conflict. For example, he writes “truth and knowledge are always in the process of being renegotiated.” In other words, society is always developing and changing, therefore it is always negotiable on how to improve, and is therefore argumentative on how to best do so. However, are there times when topics are not arguable? 

Universal truths are the opposite of relativism, and can not be rhetorically argued. Examples of this include the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, or death is inevitable. With universal truths, society is given some concrete middle ground that we all “universally” experience. On the other hand, Fish writes, “a state of universal agreement… is not something we mortals will ever achieve.” Ironically, he is attempting to create his own universal truth in stating that argument is inescapable. In sum then, Fish suggests that argument is a revolving circle, that once we are out of one, it is certain that there is another argument meant to be held in the future.

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Winning Political Arguments

Have you ever gone through a month, a week, or even a day without having a single argument or disagreement? Throughout Stanley Fish’s book, Winning Arguments, it is claimed that argument is inevitable and inescapable. He specifically focuses on four types of arguments: political arguments, domestic arguments, legal arguments, and academic arguments. Most prevalent and controversial today, however, are political arguments due to the political unrest in the United States. In his chapter two of Winning Arguments, Fish argues that political arguments are a never ending circle of back and forth through the use of “talking points”, however there is a rare chance of conversion. More specifically, he uses modern day examples such as the Washington Redskins or same sex marriage to demonstrate the regularity of political arguments, and the difficulty to reach a verdict. For example, he writes, “Being convinced  of  either  of  these  views  of  the  responsibilities  and  limits  of government renders you incapable of hearing arguments from the other side as anything but the progeny of error.” (Fish, Chapter 2).  In other words, once a person has formulated their opinion on a political issue through educating themselves on the topic, they view their opinion as the right opinion. A famous quote by Daniel Patrick Moynihan states, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Once both sides of an argument generate their evidence and facts as to why they believe what they believe, it is not a matter of who has the best facts, rather who can present the most skilled argument. In sum then, Fish suggests that the difference between fact and opinion becomes hazy during political arguments and causes the inability to be convinced.

Fish, Stanley Eugene. Winning Arguments: What Works and Doesn’t Work in Politics, the Bedroom, the Courtroom, and the Classroom. Harper Paperbacks, 2017.