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The Tyranny of Words

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  197 ratings  ·  19 reviews
A popular approach to semantics in which the author discussess how to clarify the meaning of words and achieve more exact communication. Index
Paperback, 420 pages
Published April 15th 1959 by Mariner Books (first published 1938)
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Jan 13, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a hard book to review because it requires contextualization. Here goes:

Stuart Chase was an economist who got interested in words when semantics was developing as a branch of linguistics. This book is his synthesis of his reading in this area over a 3-year period in the mid-1930's. It is clearly not written by a linguist and it has some terrible logical errors (including a bunch of syllogisms that would bring a logician to tears). However, the area it tackles is terribly hard: how do we c
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Jason by: Peter Joseph
Shelves: tzm-reading-list
Highly Recommend! This is my introduction to the concept of Semantics. To date it's the most informative book I've come across on language and spoken communication. As a writer and speaker this book sets a foundation for communicating new information to another person or group. How to take in information and understand nonsense from utility. It clears the smoke of spellbinders and mystics, philosophers and economists where words hang in the abstract, with different meanings & interpretations to ...more
Leon M
Jan 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: ps-ppe-priority
Stuart Chase's "Tyranny of Words" is one of the easier introductions to the applied philosophy of language. The book makes four major points that I'd like to mention here:

1) It introduces the reader to Korzybski's idea of general-semantics as first discussed in his "Science and Sanity". Korzybski major realization was that words always need to refer to something in existence: the map is not the territory. From this theoretical approach to the philosophy of language, Korzybski develops practical
Sep 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Van by: Hayakawa
Shelves: nonfiction
The Tyranny of Words

The book was first published in 1938 (my copy was published in London at that time, strangely enough) and I don't know how to edit the Goodreads text that says it was published much later. Also good quality paperbacks (with better covers) and hardbacks are still available on Amazon.

The author, ironically, is a little more wordy for my taste than I would like but not nearly enough to “bounce” me from the book. The ideas are practical and useful. This is an “early” work as it w
Josh Smith
Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book on the prospects of the clarification of language. I enjoyed the special focus on economic and political matters. As the book was written between the two world wars, you would think it might read like a dated book, but it actually was quite refreshing. One can see echoes from the past in today's economic and political problems, which Chase masterfully shows stem partly from problems with communication and using dogmatic absolutes. Every person considering himself or herself on the " ...more
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
I am currently on chapter 6, this book is a bit difficult to read since some of the words are not on my daily vocab; so I have to take the time I come across each new word to me and write it down the look up the definition. To my understanding so far the author's take on semantics is of words being used excessively on intangible things. I have been taking notes as I progress through the chapters and have a list of a few other experts in the field of Semantics and neurology to follow up on once c ...more
Sep 13, 2009 added it
This book introduced me to Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics (GS). One of the most important precepts of GS is that any abstract word without a clear referent in the physical world is deemed essentially meaningless. Guided by this and other principles of the discipline, Stuart Chase gives and critiques examples of misleading or meaningless language in economics, politics, literary theory, science and law. I found this book to be an easy-to-understand (and well-written) investigation of the li ...more
Shashi Khanka
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was not an easy read as I expected it to be. I thought it would be a lot about psychology but its about Reality, about the real world that we live in. The words that we use and the world that we have created in our minds of words and loads of them has little to do with reality. A lot of things that we talk about are in abstraction and much of it has no referents in the real world. The author mocks the intellectuals that can talk endlessly on Law, Liberty, Equality, Capitalism and the like. ...more
Doug DesCombaz
Fun to read on an unintended level as an artifact or time-capsule for the context of being written 8 decades ago (1938) prior to US involvement in WWII US. It took me a bit to realize the author wasn't just making a reference to Hitler (or whatever my first clues were) as a historic figure. The author provides many examples of arguments over economic systems (and other things) that haven't changed in all of these decades. He shared a funny experiment of asking a number of different people their ...more
Sawyer Donk
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it, and I’m sure I will remember this as being a intellectually formative title. I’ve never given the subject of semantics much though but Stuart Chase argues stylishly and effectively the importance of its study. I’m already diving into the books in the bibliography.

After around page 250 or so, Chase stops talking about theory and applies it to practical problems. Being an economist, the following chapters involve right and left wing economics, American law, and politics of his time.
I fou
Tyler Chism
Dec 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Find the first couple of three star reviews for this book and they do a great job of summing up my thoughts.
Pangaea Marianas
Sep 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: No one.
Recommended to Pangaea by: Wikipedia article on General Semantics
This was my first exposure to Mr. Chase, it was recommended me by various sources as I delve into General Semantics. I find it likely that it will be my last Chase. This book did not chalk my cue stick. There were a few tidbits which were worthy of jotting, but the entirety of extracted material was not in sufficient proportion to its 350+ pages to warrant a positive review. In my opinion, Mr. Chase's mind is not a necessary partner in the quest for 21st century enlightenment and I do not plan t ...more
May 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
For somebody who is trying to expose the tyranny of words, the author uses too many words. On a serious note - the book makes sense. Our language is severely lacking, and most of the time talk but don't communicate. I wish we had one universal language and its okay to use abstract words but they should not be mixed with reality.

Most of the text so far seems dedicated to illustrations of the points he's trying to make, but these illustrations are redundant and long-winded (and not necessarily based in reality). I just read a set of pages that could have gotten their message across with 1/8th of the word-count. The word-to-content ratio in this book is too skewed for me to deal with and I give up.
Jimmy Ele
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
The last 100 pages of this book were really hard to get through. It all of a sudden became very boring to me especially when it came to economic and judicial word abstractions. I enjoyed the first 300 pages immensely, and that is why I rated it 4 stars.
Dec 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS! No questions ask, just go buy it now. You'll probably need to get if offline; I think it's out of print.

It will teach you invaluable lessons about the words we use to communicate and how they should be used.
Wesley Johnson
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physically-own
A great introduction to the basic logic behind semantics, this book also gives an interesting perspective to the United States just before WWII.
Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Aug 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
The book introduces Semantics to the reader. A discipline that decontaminate a thinker's mind, and, leaves one Intellectually Humble.
Almuhalab Saléh
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Mar 28, 2015
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Peter Skinnes
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Jeremy Peterson
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Jul 28, 2016
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Feb 04, 2013
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Sep 13, 2009
rated it it was ok
Dec 04, 2012
Mohamed Amer
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Stuart Chase was an American economist and engineer trained at MIT. His writings covered topics as diverse as general semantics and physical economy. His hybrid background of engineering and economics places him in the same philosophical camp as R. Buckminster Fuller. Chase's thought was shaped by Henry George, Thorstein Veblen and Fabian socialism. Chase spent his early political career supportin ...more

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“Dewey mournfully remarks, “A certain tragic fate seems to attend all intellectual movements.” With no standard, no proof, anywhere in the premises, a brand of philosophy can be overthrown as easily as it can rise up. Said Thomas Huxley: Generation after generation, philosophy has been doomed to roll the stone uphill; and just as all the world swore it was at the top, down ic has rolled to the bottom again . . . until now the weight and the number of those who refuse to be the prey of verbal mystifications has begun to tell in practical life. Huxley’s grandson, Aldous, observes that philosophical arguments are mostly angry shoutings at one another by two people who use the same words but mean different things by them.” 0 likes
“That words are not things. (Identification of words with things, however, is widespread, and leads to untold misunderstanding and confusion.) That words mean nothing in themselves; they are as much symbols as x or y. That meaning in words arises from context of situation. That abstract words and terms are especially liable to spurious identification. The higher the abstraction, the greater the danger. That things have meaning to us only as they have been experienced before. “Thingumbob again.” That no two events are exactly similar. That finding relations and orders between things gives more dependable meanings than trying to deal in absolute substances and properties. Few absolute properties have been authenticated in the world outside. That mathematics is a useful language to improve knowledge and communication. That the human brain is a remarkable instrument and probably a satisfactory agent for clear communication. That to improve communication new words are not needed, but a better use of the words we have. (Structural improvements in ordinary language, however, should be made.) That the scientific method and especially the operational approach are applicable to the study and improvement of communication. (No other approach has presented credentials meriting consideration.) That the formulation of concepts upon which sane men can agree, on a given date, is a prime goal of communication. (This method is already widespread in the physical sciences and is badly needed in social affairs.) That academic philosophy and formal logic have hampered rather than advanced knowledge, and should be abandoned. That simile, metaphor, poetry, are legitimate and useful methods of communication, provided speaker and hearer are conscious that they are being employed. That the test of valid meaning is: first, survival of the individual and the species; second, enjoyment of living during the period of survival.” 0 likes
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