Notation and Conjugates
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Notation and Conjugates
Making an argument based on the relationship (or lack of relationship) between language and that to which language refers.

"Notation" refers to the fact that language is just a label, a kind of notation, and "conjugates" refers to the way that language and things (res and verba) can indeed be brought together, whether in a very direct correspondence (such as the onomatopoetic word, "hum," that sounds like what it means) or in a suggestive way (such as the way the unpleasant sounds that make up the name "Scrooge" contribute to his characterization as an unpleasant person). This topic corresponds to the Figures of Wordplay.

  In the following example, there is no necessary relationship between the similarity of words involved and the legal right in dispute, but the similarity of the two words to each other nevertheless makes a suggestive implication that there is:
If a field is common (compascuus) it is legal to be used for common pasture (compascere). —Cicero

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
—Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet II-II:42-45

Will any man say that if the Words, Whoring, Drinking, Cheating, Lying, Stealing, were by Act of Parliament ejected out of the English Tongue and Dictionaries; We should all Awake next Morning Chast and Temperate, Honest and Just, and Lovers of Truth. Is this a fair Consequence? Or if the Physicians would forbid us to pronounce the Words Pox, Gout, Rheumatism and Stone, would that Expedient serve like so many Talismans to destroy the Diseases themselves. Are Party and Faction rooted in Mens Hearts no deeper than Phrases borrowed from Religion, or founded upon no firmer Principles? And is our Language so poor that we cannot find other Terms to express them? Are Envy, Pride, Avarice and Ambition such ill Nomenclators, that they cannot furnish Appellations for their Owners? Will not Heydukes and Mamalukes, Mandarins and Patshaws, or any other Words formed at Pleasure, serve to distinguish those who are in the Ministry from others who would be in it if they could? What, for instance, is easier than to vary the Form of Speech, and instead of the Word, Church, make it a Question in Politicks, Whether the Monument be in Danger? Because Religion was nearest at hand to furnish a few convenient Phrases, is our Invention so barren, we can find no other? Suppose for Argument sake, that the Tories favoured Margarita, the Whigs Mrs. Tofts, and the Trimmers Valentini, would not Margaritians, Toftians and Valentinians be very tolerable Marks of Distinction?

—Jonathan Swift, from Against the Abolishing of Christianity

Related Figures

  Sources: Cic. Top. 3.12, 8.35-9.38; Suarez 12v-13r

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Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
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