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Re: colorless green ideas

From:Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Friday, April 9, 2004, 6:57
On Thursday, April 8, 2004, at 09:21 AM, Tristan McLeay wrote:

> --- Philippe Caquant <herodote92@...> wrote: >> I very much like that sentence: "Colourless green >> ideas sleep furiously". Could you please remember me >> who proposed it first ? (Chomsky ?) >> >> I like it because, if you consider it from a >> semantical point of view, it is completely stupid, > > To me it has a very blatant meaning, though it needs > to be capitalised 'colorless Green ideas sleep > furiously'.
Yep, of course it has meaning. I fail to understand how it's completely stupid semantically. Nor, indeed, does one need to capitalize 'Green' altho it that is a possible meaning. A common enough meaning of 'colorless' is: "neutral, lacking distinctive characters" and I've certainly come across ideas that lack any distinctive character. Colorless ideas are, alas, common-place. 'Green' has a very wide range of meanings among which my dictionary lists "incompletely prepared: immature: unseasoned: inexperienced". 'Immature ideas that lack character' is not exactly obscure. The problem as I see it is not that 'colorless green ideas' is semantically stupid - far from it. The problem is that out of context it is simply ambiguous. Another meaning, less common now, I think, of 'green' is "jealous" - 'jealous ideas', 'ideas concerning the environment', 'immature ideas' - which is it? The sentence lacks context. [snip]
> (Sleeping furiously is perfectly normal and doesn't > strike me as odd in the least (anyone who's ever been > sick should know that...);
Quite so - and it strikes me that Vesuvius was sleeping pretty furiously in the years leading up 79 CE - if only the people of Pompeii hadn't been lulled into the idea that it was sleeping peacefully! And we certainly talk about ideas being dormant, i.e. sleeping. [snip]
> are particularly interesting, that is hardly even a > pebble on the already bumpy, pot-hold-filled road that > is understanding language.
I agree. In view of the richness of our language and the wide use of metaphor in 'ordinary' English (one doesn't have o resort to 'poetry'), I wonder if it is, in fact, possible to produce a sentence using standard English words in acceptable grammatically formed sentence that is completely stupid from a semantic point of view. Now there's a challenge :) Ray =============================================== (home) (work) =============================================== "A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language." J.G. Hamann, 1760


Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...>
Andreas Johansson <andjo@...>