July 10, 2006

Underlying claim false, linguified claim true

Here's a case where we have an underlying claim that is wildly false but the linguified claim might be broadly true:

‘High tech’ and ‘in a museum’aren't usually found in the same sentence.
[In the "From the Secretary" feature, Smithsonian Magazine, April 2006; thanks to Christina Marie Rahaim]

The underlying claim is that nobody usually discusses high-tech in connection with museum displays, and that seems ridiculously false: there appear to be tens of thousands of web pages discussing exactly that topic, in connection with computer art in art museums, displays in science museums, educational aids involving the Internet in general museums, and so on and so on. The subject is hotter than a two-dollar pistol. But I used Google to find pages that had both the string ‘high tech’ and the string ‘in a museum’ (more than 37,000 of them), and in the first hundred I read, the two strings, though often connecting the two topics, always happened to be in separate sentences syntactically. So the linguified claim (which had nothing to do with what the Secretary actually wanted to talk about) seems to be largely true.

That does not, of course, change anything about whether the rhetorical device here is a linguification, or about whether it is a tired old snowclone of linguification, or whether the Secretary published a shabby piece of dull hack writing back in April.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at July 10, 2006 12:06 PM