usage of the week-ing it up

cristi here, blogging it up in connecticut, and tracking invented usages to keep you, the reader, up to date and talking it up real cool-like.

today we'll be talking about 'blanking it up.' as with most new usages, the form of this one isn't new, but the application is.
eat it up
take it up
snap it up
mess it up
have been around for years, but new usages like
tent it up (usually refering to camping)
blogging it up
talking it up
laugh it up
smoke it up (usually refering to marijuana)
seem emergent. a google search returned 334 hits for "tenting it up," and 1050 hits for "blogging it up," many of them in phrases like "blogging it up motown style," "blogging it up here," or "blogging it up in [location]"

in the more traditional usages i've mentioned, 'it' usually stands for an object, so that one can say 'eat up all the turkey' or 'took his bag up.' in the newer usage, this is impossible - 'it' is not an object at all.

this usage - the addition of 'it up' to an existing verb - is hard to describe. it doesn't seem metaphorical in any way. it doesn't seem logical to say that these actions go 'up' in any sense of the word. it's my guess that a few uses came into favor in a cool community (maybe the ones having to do with gang life? who knows.), and the status of those usages lapped over into the phrasing itself.

the interesting thing is that the phrase is productive even though it isn't 'meaningful' in the strict sense. '-ing it up' doesn't add meaning - it just seems to add attitude and mark a certain speaking style. i'm just thinking it up out loud.

get your language now, 'cause we're using it up here at invented usage.


vagueness part deux

Timothy Williamson, clearly the most exciting guy in the world, wrote a whole book called 'Vagueness' about some of the topics in my last post. His opening chapter is about the classical history of sorities problems - logical puzzles like the baldness problem i presented last post.

the general format of sorities problems is a series of questions, in which one begins with a clear case: "is this pile of 10,000 grains of corn a heap?" to which anyone would answer "yes." Then the questioner slowly works down: "if i remove one grain, is it still a heap?"; "yes". "If I remove one grain at a time, and no one grain should make a difference to the status of the object, is one grain a heap?" based on the logic of premises and conclusions, the answerer (usually a stoic) is left in the absurd position of having to answer that one or even zero grains are, in fact, a heap. The question has always been: is there a sharp cut off determining when something is no longer a heap? is there a certain number of grains required to make a heap?

I, possibly a skeptic, tried this line of questioning on a computer science major (dave, i think you know who you are). at first i thought i had failed utterly, because no matter how low the numbers got, he still considered it a heap. "alright, dave, what if there are no grains? is it still a heap?" dave: "yes, [laughter] it's just an empty heap."

but i found it hard to argue that he was wrong to hypothesize an empty heap. it was certainly an elegant way to buck a sorites problem. and it reminded us here at I.U. of a post scott wrote over the summer.

even with a c.s. major, pointing to an empty place on the ground and asking "is this a heap?" is unlikely to elicit a 'yes' response. but it's NOT hard to say that yes, after i've removed grain after grain, the empty spot left is a type of heap - namely, an empty one.

so, what's the difference? why are 5 grains sometimes a heap and sometimes not? as with most topics on this blog, we return to context. we are only inclined to call something a heap when salient that it is a heap - as opposed to anything else.

the same contextual issues are important in other circumstances - suppose i have 10,000 grains but they are spread out, for instance. suppose a heap is naturally formed by wind piling grains against a wall? is it a heap?

the neat thing about language is that we can match it effectively to these vaguenesses. i hesitate to say 'vaguenesses in the world', because vagueness isn't in the world - it's in the application of totalized terms like 'heap' to a world that isn't built out of totalized concepts. but language allows us to work around these gaps when we need to and say "it used to be a heap", "it's an empty heap"; "it's a group of grains, but not a heap".


on vagueness

it's that time of year again, when all philosophy of language students' minds must turn to fanciful musings about their final papers. Will we write anything original? Will we write anything original the night of december 5, when we stay up at the sci-li all night in a panic?

to ensure that this doesn't happen, i'm going to attempt some pre-write blogging on my chosen topic, one near and dear to all our hearts: vagueness.

Gareth Evans' now famous essay "can there be vague objects?" begins,
It is sometimes said that the world might itself be vague. Rather than vagueness being a deficiency in our mode of describing the world, it would then be a necessary feature of any true description of it.

He's right, and it's a promising idea, but I'd like to point out that what is never said is that language is what allows us to talk about objects as though they were not vague.

he then introduces logical operators meaning 'definitely' and 'indefinently' and concludes that they always lead to contradiction. and then the essay ends. very abruptly. it's only a page! turning the page over, we find an essay by David Lewis in which he defends Evans and uses the word 'precisifications' many times. well done, Lewis.

but Lewis, too, addresses a simple dichotomy in the way philosophers think of vaguness: there are those who believe that objects are vague, and there are those who believe that descriptions are vague. in either case, vagueness is a fault which, if we are to be logical, we must remedy by precisifying our concepts before using them in formulas.

over my next few posts (and maybe that paper?) i'd like to argue that vagueness is not a weakness of language or the world, but a necessary, interesting, and productive part of the connection between the two. and arguments about vagueness might provide a way to bootstrap up into a debate about the nature of properties of objects and whether or not logic bows to language.

until next time, consider this classic(al) sorites problem, which led to original formulations of vaguness:
is a man with one hair on his head bald? (yes?)
is a man with two hairs on his head bald? (yes?)
can we reasonably make a distinction between his being bald or not bald on the basis of the addition of any single hair? (no.)
then by this reasoning, we can continue adding one hair at a time until you must admit that a man is not bald even if he has 20,000 hairs on his head. (doh!)