Shots of Wit

A regular posting of witticisms, aphorisms, and general musings by Clifford Cohen.

What’s in a name?

Don’t confuse naming something with knowing it.

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I have always been fascinated by the fact that when we know the name of something, we actually think that we understand that object at a deeper level. In fact, 9 times out of 10, all we know is the name. We are so impressed when others exhibit this knowledge, that we give undue respect and deference to them on any matter pertaining to the subject. While knowing the identity of an object or concept is clearly a prerequisite to knowing or learning more about it, there is danger in not recognizing the fallacy described above when it applies. This is because when we allow ourselves to assume knowledge of something, and such knowledge is not accurate, we open ourselves to potentially nasty surprises. The greatest dangers are in having an inflated opinion of ourselves, simply because we know something that other people don’t know, or in trusting others, simply because they know something we don’t know.

This aphorism advises anyone to see a name for what it is: a (basically) random set of syllables (albeit often derived from a naming system for the object in question). When you start feeling impressed with yourself or others for understanding what something is called, probe further to ascertain the true extent of understanding.

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