It's absurd and chauvinistic for Obama to talk about the woman he thinks should be Secretary of State of the United States as if she needs the big strong man to come to her defense because a couple of Senators are criticizing her.
Powers' article is good and I have no problem with its content. But her misuse of 'chauvinistic' is a good occasion for a language rant.
A chauvinist is someone who believes his country is the best in all or most respects. The word derives from 'Chauvin,' the name of an officer in Napoleon Bonaparte's army. This fellow was convinced that everything French was unsurpassingly excellent. To use 'chauvinist' for 'male chauvinist' is to destroy a perfectly useful word. If we acquiesce in this destruction, what then are we to call Chauvin? A 'country-chauvinist'?
Whether Obama is a male chauvinist, I don't know. But he surely isn't a chauvinist!
Note also that Chauvin was himself a male chauvinist in that he was both a male and a chauvinist. Thus 'male chauvinist' is ambiguous, having different meanings depending on whether we take 'male' as a specifying adjective or as a sense-shifting (alienans) adjective. Taken the first way, a male chauvinist is a chauvinist. Taken the second way, a male chauvinist is not a chauvinist any more than artificial leather is leather. Think about it.
This distinction between specifying and sense-shifting adjectives is an important one, and one ought to be aware of it. See my Adjectives category for more examples of alienans constructions. It's fun for the whole family.
While we are on this chauvinist business, there was a time when 'white chauvinist' was in use. Those were the days before leftists seized upon 'racism' as their bludgeon of choice. Vivian Gornick in The Romance of American Communism (Basic Books 1977, p. 170) tells the tale of a poor fellow who was drummed out of the American Communist Party in the 1950s on charges of 'white chauvinism.' His crime? Serving watermelon at a garden party! And you thought that Political Correctness was something new?
Or at least it was new when I first ran an ancestorof this post on the old blog back in 2008 (26 July).
No doubt you have heard of 'people of color' not to be confused with 'colored people.' (But what exactly is the difference in reality?) Just this morning I discovered that some airlines are now referring to fat passengers as 'customers of size.' I am not making this up.
A 'customer of size' is defined by Southwest Airlines as one who is "unable to lower the armrests (the definitive boundary between seats) and/or who compromise[s] any portion of adjacent seating . . . ."
As one who has been 'compromised' by obese flyers on more than one occasion, I can only applaud the policy if not the PC expression.
The tort against the English language is similar to that of dropping qualifiers. Thus a high quality journal is referred to as a 'quality' journal. But since every journal has some quality, high, low, or middling, why should 'quality' get to stand in for 'high quality'? Why should 'intercourse' get to go proxy for 'sexual intercourse'? Similarly for 'chauvinism' and 'male chauvinism.' Since we all have some color or other, why are only some of us 'people of color'? And since all of us have some size or other, why do some bear the distinction of being 'customers of size'? Just because I'm not fat, I don't have a size?
Just because my body is not misshapen, I don't have a shape?
'Fat' is perhaps rude. But what is wrong with 'obese'?
It is interesting to note the difference between 'sexual intercourse' and 'male chauvinism.' 'Male' here functions as an alienans adjective: it shifts or 'alienates' the sense of the term it qualifies: a male chauvinist is not a chauvinist. 'Sexual,' by contrast, in this context is a specifying adjective: sexual intercourse is a species of intercourse in the way that male chauvinism is not a species of chauvinism.
Recent talk of dummy sortals occasions the observation that 'dummy' here is an alienans adjective. It is not as if sortals come in two kinds, dummy and non-dummy.
If I were to write a book, Sortals for Dummies, that would be a point I'd make early on.
For more fun with alienans adjectives see my Adjectives category.
Someone declared legally dead is presumed dead. Such a person may or may not be dead. So I say 'legally' in 'legally dead' is an alienans adjective. What is the test for an alienans adjective?
Let 'FG' be a phrase in which 'F' is an adjective and 'G' a noun. 'F' is alienans if and only if either an FG is not a G, or it does not follow from x's being an FG that x is a G. For example, your former wife is not your wife, a decoy duck is not a duck, artificial leather is not leather, and a relative truth is not a truth. Is an apparent heart attack a heart attack? It may or may not be. One cannot validly move from 'Jones had an apparent heart attack' to 'Jones had a heart attack.' So 'apparent' in 'apparent heart attack' is alienans.
'Legally dead' is like 'apparent heart attack' if we replace 'dead' with 'dead person.' If Smith is a legally dead person, it does not follow that he is a dead person. If a legally dead person should show up at your door, you don't dub him 'Lazarus.'
These linguistic niceties, besides being intrinsically interesting, are sometimes philosophically relevant.
The topic of conditionals is ancient, not as ancient as Aristotle and logic itself, but damn near: hard thinking on this topic began with the Dialectical School which featured such worthies as Philo the Logician and Diodorus Cronus, circa late 4th to mid-3rd centuries B.C. In nuce, those gentlemen had wrapped their minds around what much later came to be called material and strict implication, Philo around the former, Diodorus around the latter. The topic of conditionals is also deep and fascinating. But then no topic in philosophy lacks for fascination. The mansion of philosophy has countless rooms, each a labyrinth. Be sure to secure your thread of Ariadne before plunging on . . . .
The other day it occurred to me that 'material' in 'material implication' is best thought of as an alienans adjective. Normally, an FG is a G. Thus a nagging wife is a wife, a female duck is a duck, cow's leather is leather, and a contingent truth is a truth. But if 'F' is alienans, then either an FG is not a G, or it does not follow from x's being an FG that x is a G. For example, your former wife is not your wife, your quondam lover is not your lover, a decoy duck is not a duck, artificial leather is not leather, negative growth is not growth, and a relative truth is not a truth. Is an apparent heart attack a heart attack? It may or may not be. One cannot infer from 'Jones had an apparent heart attack' to 'Jones had a heart attack.' So 'apparent' in 'apparent heart attack' is alienans.
Now if p materially implies q, does it follow that p implies q? Obviously not. I am breathing materially implies 7 + 5 = 12, but the first does not imply the second. Material implication is no more a kind or species of implication than former wives are a kind of wives, or artificial leather is a kind or species of leather. Just as 'artificial' shifts or alienates the sense of 'leather,' 'material' shifts or alienates the sense of 'implication.'
Material implication is rather a necessary condition any implication must satisfy if it is to be what it is, namely, a genuine implication. For all will agree that in no case does p imply q if p is true and q false. Thus material implication does capture something essential to every genuine implication. But if X is essential to Y, it does not follow that X is a kind of Y.
Once we appreciate that 'material' in 'material implication' is an alienans adjective, and that material implication is not a kind of implication, we are in a position to see that that the 'paradoxes' of material implication are not paradoxes strictly speaking, but arise from foisting the ordinary sense of 'implication' upon 'material implication.'
'Superb' is still able to convey a hint of the Latin, superbia, pride. A thoughtful writer bears this in mind. But in a world of thoughtless readers, there is not much call for thoughtful writers.
This reflection occasioned by a sentence from a secondary source on Pascal: "[The extrinsic proofs of Christianity] are humiliating to the superb power of reasoning that would like to judge of everything."
My bathroom sinks are made of faux marble, which is to say that they are not made of marble: false marble is not marble. So faux and 'false' function here as alienans adjectives. Similar cases: false gold, falsies, false friend. But 'false' in 'false teeth' is not an alienans adjective: false teeth are teeth just as an artificial hand is a hand. Artificial leather, however, is not leather.
What about 'epistemic' in 'epistemic possibility'? I'd say it is alienans. I ask the secretary whether Professor Windbag is in his office. She says, "It's possible." Unbeknownst to both of us, however, old Windbag was cremated the night before. So one cannot validly infer 'It is possible that p' from 'It is epistemically possible that p.'
I saw a liberal on John Stossel's show the other night. She said more than once that obesity is contagious. When called on the absurdity of her assertion, she retreated to the claim that it is socially contagious. Socially contagious? I pronounce my 'bullshit' upon that: 'socially' here functions as an alienans adjective. What is socially contagious is not contagious strictly speaking.
Liberals want to make of obesity a public health problem. We ought not let them get away with it. I have explained before why it is not a public health problem, and I'm not in the mood to repeat myself. I'll just remind you that if we let the proponents of socialized medicine get their way, our liberty is near an end. Once the government controls every aspect of health care, they will be in a position to dictate your behavior in almost every particular: what you must eat, what you must not eat, whether and how much you should exercise, whether you will be allowed to engage in such risky activities as riding motorcycles and so on. And if high risk activities are allowed, then you can expect special taxes and restrictions galore.
So when I go on about language, it is not all just pedantry and scholarly nicety. Attention to language is a prerequisite for critical thinking. There is no semantic vehicle that some leftist will not try to hijack and pilot to a Left Coast destination; so sharpen your wits and be on guard.
I read your discussion of 'alienans' with interest. It is another of those interesting words (like 'inexistence') that look as though it comes from scholastic philosophy, but apparently doesn't. I use my Latin site searcher in cases of doubt - this analyses texts of specific writers and periods. None of the great scholastic writers, not even so late a one as Suarez, use the term in this sense - indeed they hardly use it at all. They did use the term 'deminuens' in a very similar context. From the Scotus I am currently busy with:
Et sic potest concedi quod Caesar non est homo vivus, sed mortuus; et quod mortuum illo modo non deminuit ab homine, nec infert non-hominem. (And so it can be conceded that Caesar is not a living man, but dead; and that being ‘dead’ in this way does not take away from ‘man’, nor imply [that Caesar is] a non-man).
The context is the question whether 'Caesar is a man' is true or false. Scotus thinks it is true. Simon of Faversham says it is false. Roger Bacon, rather like Gareth Evans and the modern direct referentialists, think it has no truth value at all. (" ‘Caesar is Caesar’ signifies nothing... nor is it a proposition nor does it signify either what is true or false, because the whole ‘statement’ does not signify because of one or two parts that do not signify"). Note the appeal to the Fregean idea of compositionality here - the meaning of the whole is determined by the meaning of its parts. If one or more parts are meaningless, so is the whole.
Bacon's view was rightly derided by his contemporaries in Oxford and Paris.
I learned about alienans adjectives from Barry Miller who I believe borrowed the terminology from Peter Geach. From which writers Geach got the term I don't know. An interesting question is whether 'dead' in 'Caesar is a dead man' is an alienans adjective as I have explained this term in the post linked to above. Clearly, artificial leather is not leather. So 'artificial' in this context is alienans. And if so-and-so is the alleged assailant, it does not follow that he is the assailant. So 'alleged' in this context is alienans. Is a dead man a man? Although it is not so clear, I am inclined to say that a dead man is a man in agreement with Scotus.
I am also inclined to agree with Scotus that 'Caesar is a man' is true. Although Caesar no longer exists, he did exist, and so it is reasonable to take 'Caesar' as having a referent. (Once referential, always referential.) It is not like 'Pegasus.' There was an individual, Caesar, but there is no individual, Pegasus. 'Pegasus' has sense but no referent. Furthermore, Caesar's having died did not remove him from the class of men. A dead man is a man. (I grant that this is not obvious.) Simon of Faversham, I take it, thinks the sentence false because he thinks a dead man is not a man. Ths is not obviously wrong.
As for Bacon's view, it sounds crazy, a piece of wildly revisionary philosophy of language. Of course, 'Caesar is a man' has a truth-value! And this, even if we say that 'Caesar' lacks a referent. For whether or not it has a referent it has a sense. What exactly did those Medieval dudes mean by 'signify'? Were they riding roughshod over Frege's Sinn/Bedeutung distinction -- to put it anachronistically?
So I agree with 'Ocham' that Bacon's view was rightly derided.
I am sitting by a pond with a child. The child says, "Look, there are three ducks." I say, "No, there are two ducks, one female, the other male, and a decoy."
The point is that a decoy duck is not a duck, but a piece of wood shaped and painted to appear (to a duck) like a duck so as to entice ducks into range of the hunters' shotguns. Since a decoy duck is not a duck, 'decoy' in 'decoy duck' does not function in the way 'male' and 'female' function in 'male duck' and 'female duck,' respectively. A male duck is a duck and a female duck is a duck. But a decoy duck is not a duck.
'Decoy' is an alienans adjective unlike 'male' and 'female' which are specifying adjectives. 'Decoy' shifts or alienates the sense of 'duck' rather than adding a specification to it. The same goes for 'roasted' in 'We are having roasted duck for dinner.' A roasted duck is not a duck but the cooked carcass of a duck. Getting hungry?
First read study the post Alienans Adjectives. Then take the quiz. Answers below the fold. Classify the adjectives in the following examples as either specifying (S), alienans (A), or neither (N). Much of course depends on the context in which the phrase is used. So imagine a plausible and common context.
1. Deciduous tree. 2. Alleged assailant. 3. Imaginary friend. 4. Material implication. 5. Contemptible leftist. 6. Infrared radiation. 7. Hypothetical medium of the transmission of electromagnetic signals. 8. Postal service. 9. Imaginary number. 10. Male chauvinist.
I find your blog interesting and educational. A while ago you mentioned that there is a term for an adjective which is used not to specify a particular sort of the noun which it modifies, but rather a thing which does not meet the definition of that noun. (I've likely somewhat mangled the description of this term in trying to recall it.) For example 'polished leather' and 'red leather' are kinds of leather, but 'artificial leather' refers to things which aren't leather at all. I have tried to find the post that talked about this but I forgot what the topic was when you mentioned it. Can you please tell me the name for this?
'Artificial' in 'artificial leather' functions as an alienans adjective. It 'alienates' the sense of the noun it modifies. In the case of specifying adjectives, an FG is a G, where F is an adjective and G a noun. Thus a nagging wife is a wife, a female duck is a duck, cow's leather is leather, and a contingent truth is a truth. But if 'F' is alienans, then either an FG is not a G, or it does not follow from x's being an FG that x is a G. For example, your former wife is not your wife, a decoy duck is not a duck, artificial leather is not leather, and a relative truth is not a truth. Is an apparent heart attack a heart attack? It may or may not be. One cannot validly move from 'Jones had an apparent heart attack' to 'Jones had a heart attack.' So 'apparent' in 'apparent heart attack' is alienans.
Note that I was careful to say 'artificial' in 'artificial leather' is an alienans adjective. For it does not function as such in every context. 'Artificial' in 'artificial insemination' is not alienans: you are just as inseminated if it has come about artificially or naturally.
Two more examples of alienans adjectives that I borrow from Peter Geach: 'forged' in 'forged banknote' and 'putative in 'putative father.' If x is a forged banknote it does not follow that x is a banknote. And if x is the putative father of y, it does not follow that x is the father of y. Here is an example I got from the late Australian philosopher Barry Miller: 'negative' in 'negative growth.' If my stock portfolio is experiencing negative growth, then it is precisely not experiencing growth.
Of course, I am not suggesting that every adjective (as employed in some definite context) can be classified as either specifying or alienans. Consider the way 'mean-spirited' functions in 'mean-spirited Republican.' In most contexts, the implication is not that some Republicans are mean-spirited and some are not; the implication is that all are. To be a Republican is just to be mean-spirited. Is there a name for that sort of adjective? I don't know. But there ought to be, and if I ever work out a general theory of adjectives, I'll give it one.
Now consider 'Muslim terrorist.' A politically correct idiot might take offense at this phrase as implying that all Muslims are terrorists or even that all and only Muslims are terrorists. But no intelligent person would take it this way. If I say that Hasan is a Muslim terrorist , then the plain meaning to anyone with his head screwed on properly is that Hasan is a Muslim and a terrorist, which obviously does not imply that all Muslims are terrorists.