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
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.
> (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.
> are particularly interesting, that is hardly even a
> pebble on the already bumpy, pot-hold-filled road that
> is understanding language.
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 :)
"A mind which thinks at its own expense will always
interfere with language." J.G. Hamann, 1760