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Of the Abuse of Words.

any, or


$ 1. Besides the imperfection that is naAbuse of words.

turally in language, and the obscurity and

confusion that is so hard to be avoided in the use of words, there are several wilful faults and neglects which men are 'guilty of in this way of communication, whereby they render these signs less clear and distinct in their signification than naturally they need to be. First, Words

§ 2. First, in this kind, the first and without most palpable abuse is, the using of words

without clear and distinct ideas; or,

which is worse, signs without any thing clear ideas.

signified. Of these there are two sorts. I. One may observe, in all languages, certain words, that, if they be examined, will be found, in their first original and their appropriated use, not to stand for any clear and distinct ideas. These, for the most part, the several sects of philosophy and religion have introduced. For their authors or promoters, either affecting something singular and out of the way of common apprehension, or to support some strange opinions, or cover some weakness of their hypothesis, seldom fail to coin new words, and such as, when they come to be examined, may justly be called insignificant terms. For having either had no determinate collection of ideas annexed to them, when they were first invented, or at least, such as, if well examined, will be found inconsistent; it is no wonder if afterwards, in the vulgar use of the same party, they remain empty sounds, with little or no signification, amongst those who think it enough to have them often in their mouths, as the distinguishing characters of their church, or school, without much troubling their heads

to examine what are the precise ideas they stand for. I shall not need here to heap up instances; every man's reading and conversation will sufficiently furnish him: or if he wants to be better stored, the great mint-masters of this kind of terms, I mean the schoolmen and metaphysicians, (under which, I think, the disputing natural and moral philosophers of these latter ages may be comprehended) have wherewithal abundantly to content him.

$ 3. II. Others there be who extend this abuse yet farther; who take so little care to lay by words, which, in their primary notation, have scarce any clear and distinct ideas which they are annexed to; that, by an unpardonable negligence, they familiarly use words,which the propriety of language has affixed to very important ideas, without any

distinct meaning at all. Wisdom, glory, grace, &c. are words frequent enough in every man's mouth; but if a great many of those who use them should be asked what they mean by them, they would be at a stand, and not know what to answer : a plain proof, that though they have learned those sounds, and have them ready at their tongues' end, yet there are no determined ideas laid up in their minds, which are to be expressed to others by them. $ 4. Men having been accustomed from

Occasioned their cradles to learn words, which are

by learning easily got and retained, before they knew or had framed the complex ideas to which fore the they were annexed, or which were to be ideas they

belong to. found in the things they were thought to stand for; they usually continue to do so all their lives; and, without taking the pains necessary to settle in their minds determined ideas, they use their words for such unsteady and confused notions as they have, contenting themselves with the same words other people use : as if their very sound necessarily carried with it constantly the same meaning. This, though men make a shift with, in the ordinary occurrences of life, where they find it necessary to be understood,

names be

and therefore they make signs till they arė so; yet this insignificancy in their words, when they come to 'reason concerning either their tenets or interest, manifestly fills their discourse with abundance of empty unintelligible noise and jargon; especially in moral matters, where the words for the most part standing for arbitrary and numerous collections of ideas, not regularly and permanently united in nature, their bare sounds are often only thought on, or at least very obscure and uncertain notions annexed to them. Men take the words they find in use amongst their neighbours; and that they may not seem ignorant what they stand for,use them confidently, without much troubling their heads about a certain fixed meaning: whereby, besides the ease of it, they obtain this advantage ; that as in such discourses they seldom are in the right, so they are as seldom to be convinced that they are in the wrong; it being all one to go about to draw those men out of their mistakes, who have no settled notions, as to dispossess a vagrant of his habitation, who has no settled abode. This I guess to be so; and every one may observe in himself and others whether it be or no. 2. Unsteady

§ 5. Secondly, another great abuse of application words is inconstancy in the use of them. of them. It is hard to find a discourse written of

any subject, especially of controversy, wherein one shall not observe, if he read with attention, the same words (and those commonly the most material in the discourse, and upon which the argument turns) used sometimes for one collection of simple ideas, and sometimes for another; which is a perfect abuse of language. Words being intended for signs of my ideas, to make them known to others, not by any natural signification, but by a voluntary imposition--it is plain cheat and abuse, when I make them stand sometimes for one thing and sometimes for another; the wilful doing whereof can be imputed to nothing but great folly, or greater dishonesty: and a man, in his accounts

with another, may, with as much fairness, make the characters of numbers stand sometimes for one and sometimes for another collection of units, (v.g. this character 3 stand sometimes for three, sometimes for four, and sometimes for eight) as in his discourse, or reasoning, make the same words stand for different collections of simple ideas. If men should do so in their reckonings, I wonder who would have to do with them? One who would speak thus, in the affairs and business of the world, and call eight sometimes seven, and sometimes nine, as best served his advantage, would presently have clapped upon him one of the two names men are commonly disgusted with : and yet in arguings and learned contests, the same sort of proceedings passes commonly for wit and learning : but to me it appears a greater dishonesty than the misplacing of counters in the casting up a debt; and the cheat the greater, by how much truth is of greater concernment and value than money.

$ 6. Thirdly, another abuse of language 3. Affected is an affected obscurity, by either applying obscurity by old words to new and unusual significa- wione con

plication. tions, or introducing new and ambiguous terms, without defining either; or else putting them so together, as may confound their ordinary meaning. Though the Peripatetic philosophy has been most eminent in this way, yet other sects have not been wholly clear of it. There are scarce any of them that are not cumbered with some difficulties (such is the imperfection of human knowledge) which they have been fain to cover with obscurity of terms, and to confound the signification of words, which, like a mist before people's eyes, might hinder their weak parts from being discovered. That body and extension, in common use, stand for two distinct ideas, is plain to any one that will but reflect a little : for were their signification precisely the same, it would be proper, and as intelligible to say, the body of an extension, as the extension of a body; and yet there are those who find


it necessary to confound their signification. To this abuse, and the mischiefs of confounding the signification of words, logic and the liberal sciences, as they have been handled in the schools, have given reputation; and the admired art of disputing hath added much to the natural imperfection of languages, whilst it has been made use of and fitted to perplex the signification of words, more than to discover the knowledge and truth of things: and he that will look into that sort of learned writings, will find the words there much more obscure, uncertain, and undetermined in their meaning than they are in ordinary conversation. Logic and $ 7. This is unavoidably to be so, where dispute have men's parts and learning are estimated by much con- their skill in disputing. And if reputation tributed to

and reward shall attend these conquests,

which depend mostly on the fineness and niceties of words, it is no wonder if the wit of man, so employed, should perplex, involve, and subtilize the signification of sounds, so as never to want something to say, in opposing or defending any question; the victory being adjudged not to him who had truth on his side, but the last word in the dispute.

$ 8. This, though a very useless skill, Calling it subtilty.

and that which I think the direct opposite

to the ways of knowledge, hath yet passed hitherto under the laudable and esteemed names of subtilty and acuteness; and has had the applause of the schools, and encouragement of one part of the learned men of the world. And no wonder; since the philosophers of old (the disputing and wrangling philosophers I mean, such as Lucian wittily and with reason taxes) and the schoolmen since, aiming at glory and esteem for their great and universal knowledge, (easier a great deal to be pretended to than really acquired) found this a good expedient to cover their ignorance with a curious and inexplicable web of perplexed words, and procure to themselves the admiration of others by unintelligible

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