Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What's a Book?

I think there are a couple different definitions of the word 'book' that are important in general everyday use. It's probably worth noting that, as far as I'm concerned, a definition is important to the extent that it's useful for communicating. So while it might be fun to say that the clothes I'm wearing or the receipts in my pocket are books, these uses of 'book' aren't helpful for communicating with other people. If clothes, receipts, and lots of other objects and activities count as books then no one is going to have any idea what I mean when I say, for instance, "I read a good book this morning." Do I mean to suggest that I took an enjoyable stroll through the park? Perhaps I made a tasty omelet. If 'book' can be used to describe anything, then it ceases to be useful for describing any particular thing. This is going to be especially frustrating if I want to tell someone that I looked at some words on a page and parsed them in order, since there aren't a lot of good phrases for that besides "reading a book." Furthermore, I can't think of any substantial benefits one would gain by starting to refer to all sorts of things as books.

If, as a class, we want to agree that there are lots of different objects and experiences that are as educational as reading books, then by all means let's do that, but I don't think we need to call everything a book in order to do so. In fact, I think we'll have a much easier time understanding each other if we encourage the use of words with specific and precise meanings. Despite the fact that I don't think we should use the word 'book' loosely, I do think it could be interesting and beneficial to use books and reading as metaphors for the way we interact with other objects and vice versus.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are right, Derek. The purpose of language is to bring what is intangible into a realm where it can be discussed. Words may not be perfect, but they definitely serve an important function. So, like you said, "if 'book' can be used to describe anything, then it ceases to be useful for describing any particular thing." While of course there are parts of life that may give us the same sensation as a book might, a book as what it is conventionally known as may be best in terms of discussing it.