Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A quarrel about words

"Now, let us put the matter very plainly, and without any romantic nonsense about honour or anything of that sort. Is not bloodshed a great sin?"
"No," said MacIan, speaking for the first time.
"Well, really, really!" said the peacemaker.
"Murder is a sin," said the immovable Highlander. "There is no sin of bloodshed."
"Well, we won't quarrel about a word," said the other, pleasantly.
"Why on earth not?" said MacIan, with a sudden asperity. "Why shouldn't we quarrel about a word? What is the good of words if they aren't important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn't any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn't there be a quarrel about a word? If you're not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about? Are you going to convey your meaning to me by moving your ears? The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are the only things worth fighting about. I say that murder is a sin, and bloodshed is not, and that there is as much difference between those words as there is between the word 'yes' and the word 'no'; or rather more difference, for 'yes' and 'no', at least, belong to the same category. Murder is a spiritual incident. Bloodshed is a physical incident. A surgeon commits bloodshed."
[GKC, The Ball and the Cross]
Did you ever realize that every time you "connect" (or whatever it is one does) by entering a password, you attest to a precision embodied in a "word" which is not only literary but mathematical?

(You may even have to be concerned with typographical niceties like apostrophes or upper and lower case - and the fact that "four" is not the same as "two-plus-two"!)

Yes - your password "word" is the key which gives you access to the E-cosmos - and a strange thing, too, as GKC pointed out:
...the shape of a key is in itself a rather fantastic shape. A savage who did not know it was a key would have the greatest difficulty in guessing what it could possibly be. And it is fantastic because it is in a sense arbitrary. A key is not a matter of abstractions; in that sense a key is not a matter of argument. It either fits the lock or it does not. It is useless for men to stand disputing over it, considered by itself; or reconstructing it on pure principles of geometry or decorative art. It is senseless for a man to say he would like a simpler key; it would be far more sensible to do his best with a crowbar.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:347]
I think of this every time I have to type in one of those "word verification" roadbumps. As you might expect there is a hidden pun: the part of the key which enters a lock and acts upon the tumblers is called the "bit" - which in the computer is literally "the smallest part of a letter" (one eighth, to be precise).

Somehow this sounds strangely familiar, doesn't it?

(Yes, I am building up to an amazing revelation. Keep reading...)


  1. Every time I see XP I think of the "Chi Rho" anagram for our Lord.

  2. Amazing how much, the more you study both science and theology, the more both those disciplines seem tied together.


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