In this post, I wish to expound upon two “classical” philosophical and/or literary concepts that are expressed in phrases. The first of these is a very important one to me.
The fame of William Of Ockham as a logician rests mainly on a phrase that is constantly mistranslated as “the simplest explanation is (often) the best one”. This is the worst translation you will ever hear of a Latin expression, even if you live to be five centuries old. In order to understand the problem, you must first understand that this exact phrase appears not once in all of his writings. The closest thing in William’s work to this oversimplification is, in fact, “Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate” (literally, Plurality must never be posited without necessity). Another quote from William that comes close to a match is “Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora” (It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer). This latter possible translation also forms one of the basic laws in the art of engineering. When faced with multiple competing designs, the simplest one that accomplishes the same task or tasks as required is the best one.
I emphasised “as required” for a good reason. You see, when you are confronted with a child in school who has trouble communicating with his peers in the manner that they expect, and lapsing into violent or devious behaviour, the simplest explanation runs something like “he’s just a bad egg” (say this aloud in a hysterical, high-pitched, offended-sounding voice to get my full meaning). It is the wrong explanation. As Miyagi (Pat Morita) said more than twenty-five years ago now, no such thing as bad student, only bad teacher. No child actively sets out to be evil. They grow to be evil as a result of influences that push them in that direction. Those influences can include family, authority figures such as policemen who do their jobs badly, or (you got it) teachers.
Autism has also been depicted in the past as like a neurological cocoon. This has denied autistic individuals who can write and speak in a very persuasive manner, like myself, the chance at a timely diagnosis and timely addressing of their problems. So if you still think that the simplest explanation is the best one, I will never forgive you for that.
The second overused literary/philosophical quote is from a Shakespeare play, Romeo And Juliet. It reads, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet”.
I hate William Shakespeare. Not because of the usual grade school reasons (he’s booooooring, yes, I get that, peers I had as a thirteen year old, but that’s a summary, not an explanation). Often, people yammer on and on about how Shakespeare wrote in “the language of the common man”. This is a classic example of how people wishing to work in the media should fear their most ardent supporters. Sure, this asshole might have written in the language of the “common man” of the year 1999. But the common man of the Middle Ages was an entirely different beast. In a society where illiteracy is the exception rather than the rule, it is scarcely conceivable to us that large portions of the English-speaking world could not read or write well enough to fill out a form or complete a novel in 1600. In France, the illiteracy rate was between 60 and 70 percent during the 1720s. So this idea that an obviously upper-middle-class twat who was baptised in 1564 (his birthdate is apparently lost to time) wrote for this vague “common man” is simply unsupportable.
The truth is that names are important. One of my favourite sites about health is Quackwatch.org. In one of the site’s best articles, William T. Jarvis, Ph.D. writes that a Chinese proverb has it that the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names. The full article is Alternative Medicine: A Public Health Perspective. This article is very adamant that “alternative medicine” is a misnomer. “They not only lack scientific proof of safety and/or effectiveness,” Jarvis writes. “They also lack a plausible rationale”.
You will note that this description applies to much curebie mythology. But they go even further. When confronted with the mounds of documentation with have available to us that their “cures” or “therapies” can and have resulted in deaths, they simply throw the book right out of the window and claim that it is irrelevant that an autistic child or adult died, or that the death resulted from something the patient did wrong.
The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names. Hence, when I see autistic adults, or celebrities like Wil Wheaton (who, this aside, seems to be a lovely gentleman whom I would not mind casting in a future adaptation of one of my stories such as The Raven And The Ruby), go on about “geek culture”, it drives me right up the wall. Apart from the extreme negative connotations that this word carried with its usage when I was a schoolboy, if you go back further in time, you can find that the word “geek” has even worse connotations. In evidence, I would like to offer two documents. The first is the Wikipedia article about Geek Shows. For those who are too lazy to look at and understand what this article is saying, essentially, a geek show is a performance act that is humiliating and degrading to the performer but entertaining to the audience. The other article I wish to quote is Roger Ebert’s review of the 1979 exploitation flick I Spit On Your Grave. He invokes the phrase “geek show” in his closing remarks. I do the same thing in my much more recent review of the Blu-ray Disc release of the film. During the closing remarks, I openly admit that the reason I watch that film is because it is a geek show. I find seeing rapists or other kinds who abuse people whose ability to fight back is limited being killed in ways that leave them screaming like the little pussies that they are for many minutes enjoyable. But the fact remains that no matter how I try to justify that, it is a geek show for me.
Hence, “I’m just a geek” from people like Wheaton makes me want to hold them down and wash their mouth out with tile cleaner. And again, just to make sure you understand me properly, I find Wheaton‘s writings otherwise very compelling, especially when he remarks about films or television shows he has worked on in the past. Whilst there are many celebrities and public figures whose behaviour makes me want to hoist them up in a style reminiscent of Vlad Țepeș, this is more a case of people using an unfortunate word in an unfortunate way that makes me want to ask them to rethink it.
(Edit to add: You can find Wil Wheaton‘s writings here. Whilst I am sure he does not need any further publicity from the like of me, I like sourcing things I write for comparison and clarity. So here you go.)
So when I tell you that there is a hell of a lot in a name, I want you to understand my full meaning. This is why the characters in my still-unpublished novels have names like Kronisk (a Finnish word that has a similar meaning to Chronicler), Trór Gravewater (the o sound sounds like one is heaving something out), or Nilfennasion (an Elvish-ised twisting of the Latin expression “nil finis”, which literally means “it never ends”). These are all names that, when sounded correctly, let the beholder know that these are frightening, hard men living in a world that only has relatively small pockets where it is not frightening and hard. It is not a coincidence, either, that the languages I use as proxies for Dwarvish, Elvish, or Halfling in my novels, Latin, Norwegian, Swedish, or Finnish, and Italian, respectively, all have hard/angry, hard/poetic/fearsome sounds to them. Unlike a certain director who does not know the meaning of words like “grim” or “plain-speaking”, I like to make my characters consistent with their stated/known nature.
This also goes back to the “debate” we have about “person first” (read: I am a selfish asshole who feels more comfortable speaking this way even when it causes the people I am speaking about much grief) language. Even the very sounds of the words you use will bring up images in my head. If you respect the fact that being autistic is even more a part of my core identity than being part Scottish or being from a part of Sydney where every nationality of Western Europe became acquainted with one another, you will receive positive responses from me. Otherwise, look out.
So in answer to Shakespeare’s question, what be in a name, I can tell you this much: quite a fukking lot, actually.
Thank you to those who have read this far. I hope you found it all enlightening.
(Supplementary note: Does anyone know the way in which the word “Halfling” would be rendered by someone who speaks Italian? I have been wanting to come up with a new word for that race, and that seems the best place to start.)
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