Synonymy and quotational contexts in New Jersey

« previous post | next post »

The "Say What?" feature on the Doonesbury site quotes this error correction from the New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper, about the misreporting of something Governor Chris Christie's chief spokesman Michael Drewniak said:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Drewniak referred to the Port Authority's executive director as a 'piece of crap.' While Drewniak did call him a 'piece of excrement,' it was David Wildstein who referred to the executive director as a 'piece of crap.'

What do we learn from this? (Remember, this is Language Log, not New Jersey Politics Log.)

We learn that synonymy does not in any way guarantee acceptability-preserving or truth-preserving intersubstitutability in context. Crap is excrement, and excrement is crap; no doubt about that. But reporting Drewniak as saying "piece of crap" when he actually said "piece of excrement" is a false report. The synonymy of the words crap and excrement offers no defense; a correction and apology was due. Such facts of semantics were noted by Gottlob Frege more than a century ago, and are still valid and important, even in the snakepit that is politics in 21st-century New Jersey.

Comments are closed.