Re: META: Subject line profanity considered [really dumb]

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Fri Jan 04 2002 - 16:32:51 MST

Dossy: As Mark Twain once said, the difference between the right word and
the almost-right word is the difference between "lightning" and "lightning
bug". I can call my umbrella a hemispherical portable rain shelter, but
that doesn't mean the phrase "hemispherical portable rain shelter" is as
good as "umbrella". You may be able to prove that swear words are never
"necessary" in the sense that the same concept can be approximately
communicated using a much longer verbal description, but swear words are
certainly shorter; they also have connotations that may be *describable*
in language but which those communications will not *communicate* in the
same way as the swear words themselves. Saying "I feel great anger and
hostility toward you" is not a useful substitute for saying "fuck you" any
more than "hemispherical portable rain shelter" is a useful substitute for
"umbrella". The choice of words carries its own implications, and the
implication of choosing "I feel great anger and hostility toward you" over
"fuck you" is "I've been watching too much psychobabble on Jerry
Springer", versus "I would enjoy crushing your skull in my fist" for the

These elaborate dances to avoid particular words are the linguistic
equivalent of the Turing tarpit, where everything is possible but nothing
is easy. And a semantic translation will never communicate the same
information as the original because the fact that you are dancing around
the words carries its own connotations - a Heisenberg effect.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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