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A recently spotlighted diary on Daily Kos concerning Miley Cyrus ill-famed performance at the 2013 Video Music Awards caught the Word Sommelier's eye. That diary contained the following sentence:

...Cyrus's gyrations rendered the award show a locus for objectification that ultimately reified the type of patriarchal paradigms that are diametrically opposed to the edicts advanced by sex-positive rhetoric and realities.
Now the Word Sommelier has been on inter-election hiatus from his vocation of helping people make more effective and striking word choices; but the pathetic spectacle of this diarist's poor meaning mired in an unfriendly lexical morass moved him to swift action.  

For the Word Sommelier's advice on this sentence, continue with him below the divider doodle.

Now for those unfamiliar with the office of the Word Sommelier, his vocation is the enhancement of self-expression, specifically in that area of self-expression concerned with making effective word choices. It is not his business to tell anyone what to think. Even so, Word Sommelier in his capacity as a private citizen has not an iota of disagreement with this diarist's meaning, so far as he can make out that meaning.

And therein lay the rub: this sentence wins, by a country mile, the award for the worst word choices ever in a dKos diary.  Its grotesque vocabulary afflicts this poor utterance with all the senselessly baroque articulation of a plain homespun sentence all dressed up to attend the neo-Marxist ball.

Now "reification" has several meanings in philosophy, engineering and linguistics, but the one attempted here seems to be what Marxist theorists call, in German, Verdinglichung -- literally "making into a thing".  The common English translation of Verdinglichung into the obscure and technical reification is unfortunate; in German at least one has a fighting chance of making some sense out of the thing. Had the Word Sommelier been alive in 1846, the year "reification" entered the English Language, he'd have suggested a much plainer sounding neologism: "thingification".

Verdinglichung refers to two closely related processes which Marxist theory posits underly the transformation of labor into a conveniently tradeable (and amassable) commodity: the treatment of a worker as a thing (aka "alienation"), and the creation of symbols -- spuriously treated as if they could have the utility value of concrete things -- to which value properly belonging to human experience will be misattributed. The diarist unlimbers this clumsy but potent ideological cannon, only to fire it at an apparently randomly chosen and vaguely identified target, viz., a certain left-unnamed-by-the-diarist type of "patriarchal paradigm".

The natural target for this charge of "reification" would be Cyrus' self-objectification.  So what might the "reification" of a "type of patriarchal paradigm" mean?  As nearly as the Word Sommelier can determine, had the diarist has a particular reason to use "reify" it would be to accuse Ms. Cyrus of  transforming the use-value of her own sexuality into a readily marketable commodity image.

That's actually quite a clever charge to lay at the feet of Ms. Cyrus, but the problem is that the Word Sommelier is not sure the diarist actually meant that. Indeed this whole sentence is rife with awkward, portentous words whose clumsy use obscures the diarist's meaning:  "locus", "rhetorical" and "paradigm" -- even the normally dignified "edict" finds itself swept along in the semantic train wreck.  The respectable working class word "reality" seems to serve no persuasive function in the sentence; it is as if it were picked up by a whirlwind and when it awoke it found itself chained in the pillory with the disreputable "rhetoric".  I suspect "realities" is there for the diarist to hedge what might be taken by some as an assertion that "sex positive" notions are entirely a matter of self-serving rhetoric, not just in this case.  But this kind of nervous dodge would entirely unnecessary in a sentence constructed from cheerful, familiar words rather than disturbingly alien ones.

There's an important principle of word choice that needs application here: never to use a museum-piece word when more widely understood words carry your meaning with equal or greater precision. The violation of this principle makes the diarist's meaning somewhat obscure, but the diarist appears to be arguing roughly along these lines:

By transforming the award ceremony into a showcase for the sexual objectification of women, Cyrus' antics made the VMA's sex-positive posturing ring hollow.
The Word Sommelier believes that the above sentence is far superior in its word choices to the original, although he wouldn't care to warrant that it conveys precisely the same meaning.  But what's so bad about "reification"? Is there no use at all for such a word?

There is nothing wrong with "reification". You should use it when no other word compasses your meaning so perfectly, and your audience can be expected to understand precisely what that meaning is.  For example, in an academic paper about the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxist philosophy "reification" could be used without explanation. Anyone apt to read such a paper would naturally have a precise and ready grasp of the technical nuances of the word.  Another effective use of a technical term such as "reification" might be to criticize an action or idea under the feigned purpose of explaining what the term means.

Routine self-expression does not require the services of the Word Sommelier. Simply keep the audience in mind when you select your words. Remember you are attempting to communicate with them, not merely impress them with your familiarity with unfamiliar words. Feel free to use words like "reify" (or "paradigm" and "locus" for that matter) if your audience will understand it and it is just the right word.  Or should the Word Sommelier say, the mot juste? No, he should not!

Originally posted to grumpynerd on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 04:06 PM PDT.

Also republished by Political Language and Messaging and Community Spotlight.


Re-read the original sentence carefully, then the Word Sommelier's translation.

21%15 votes
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Comment Preferences

  •  When I see a sentence like that (13+ / 0-)

    I just stop reading.  I'd continue on for at least one more if I had read the one you suggest.

  •  Word Sommelier... (19+ / 0-)

    the very sound of it sends a thrill up my leg!  

    Please stop by the table on a regular basis.  We thought we had everything here and yet we were missing a Word Sommelier.

    Who knew?  


    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 04:23:57 PM PDT

  •  Qu'est-ce que c'est "twerk?" (7+ / 0-)

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 04:49:49 PM PDT

  •  The Word Sommelier (24+ / 0-)

    is clearly unaware of the conventions of writing in gender and women's studies. The original diarist was merely filling the mandatory jargon quota. In these fields, it is required that every paragraph contain at least one instance of each of the following words: "paradigm," "patriarchy," and "objectification." Bonus points are awarded for the use of additional unnecessary Latinate vocabulary.

    "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

    by kyril on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 04:54:45 PM PDT

    •  'mandatory jargon quota' -- great! (16+ / 0-)

      And thanks for filling us in on some of the rhetorical edicts  of that specialized field of study.

    •  To engage in a little litotes, (14+ / 0-)

      the Word Sommelier is not unaware of the situation, however it is not confined to Gender and Womens' Studies.   A kind of faux teutonic grandeur afflicts the language of many branches of the Academy, borrowed from the Germans through the influence of Marxist theory, psychoanalysis, and these days "critical studies".

      I've lost my faith in nihilism

      by grumpynerd on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 08:40:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  'faux teutonic grandeur' -- by golly, you're onto (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ebohlman, PeterHug, CS in AZ

        something here, I think.

        Thinking back over the four decades since I was involved in scholarly work, and remembering the men whose names were always pronounced with awe by my profs and noted in textbooks as being the 'seminal' thinkers in the field -- all of them, to a man, German (or schooled by Germans).  My field was Comparative Religions, and from about 1850 on these men defined new terminology that laid the groundwork for scholarship in religions, sociology, anthropology, and psychology.  After the upheavals of the first half of the 20th century, this Germanic influence was brought forward by men like Paul Tillich and Fritz Perls (in my areas of interest).

        I had never noticed this 'teutonic' influence until I read your 'faux teutonic' sentence above -- and the point you make in your diary about  the complex structure of German words and the difficulty of translating them appropriately into English seems really important to me, in terms of the further development of scholarly thought in English-speaking countries.  These men developed neologisms to contain their 'seminal' thoughts -- fair enough, in itself.  But they were writing in a era when Latin was still the scholarly language of educated men, which may be why their neologisms were Latinized instead of Anglicized.  By the time the neologisms reached English-speaking Americans, they had gone through three levels of translation, and were already hollowed out (therefore jargon) as they were introduced.

        This is my take on what you've written, of course, and it may not reflect your meaning.  Personally, I'd love to see you write a series on just this one sentence --

        A kind of faux teutonic grandeur afflicts the language of many branches of the Academy, borrowed from the Germans through the influence of Marxist theory, psychoanalysis, and these days "critical studies".
        Fun for my brain!  Thank you!
      •  i always felt that way about sociology papers (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PeterHug, CS in AZ, kyril

        In college, I at first earnestly tried to understand what the fuck they were saying.

        Then I gradually realized their goal was to maximize sociointellectual discomprehensibility to most efficaciously achieve a secernation of heterogenousness for auerated banausic apothegms from communal sociolinguistic intercommunication modalities.

  •  I love what you did here, even though I hate it (14+ / 0-)

    that, in order to compare your revsion of the original sentence I had to go read the original diary -- and I had to read it three times to decipher the diarist's clunky and overstuffed diction sufficiently to get an idea of his/her thinking.  The entire diary can be criticized with your sentence:

    Its grotesque vocabulary afflicts this poor utterance with all the senselessly baroque articulation of a plain homespun sentence all dressed up to attend the neo-Marxist ball.
    And the kicker was -- when I found the language you quoted from that diary, I saw that you had quoted only half of the sentence involved.  The full sentence reads:
    Rather than constituting a sex-positive medium through which intercourse becomes a sphere where men and women are equal, however, D'Addario argued that Cyrus's gyrations rendered the award show a locus for objectification that ultimately reified the type of patriarchal paradigms that are diametrically opposed to the edicts advanced by sex-positive rhetoric and realities.
    And the words 'sex-positive' in that sentence are actually a link to a Wikipedia article defining the 'Sex-Positive Movement' (a Movement?  Who knew?) based on the work of (good Lord!) Wilhelm Reich.  (At least now I have a clue about where the diarist is deriving some of his/her 'edicts' from . . ..).

    The diarist has made him/herself incomprehensible to the ordinary by building this diary out of bricks of rhetoric that only those involved in the 'Sex-Positive Movement' and its edicts can comprehend.  There are plenty of commonly-known Anglo-Saxon words that would have served the (still unclear) purpose well.  It's regrettable that the diarist does not trust his/her own voice enough to use that voice to express thoughts.

    I hope the Word Sommelier will write more of these diaries.

    •  The Word Sommelier must confess, (13+ / 0-)

      he was being arch when he slyly implied that the diary's author was being self-aggrandizing in his choice of words.  The WS does not actually believe this.  He thinks the diarist was actually making a sincere effort to communicate, which when horribly awry because of his word choices.

      So how did those choices go so far amiss?

      Some people think of the Word Sommelier as a kind of human dictionary; if only it were so easy! The Word Sommelier's work only starts with the literal meaning of a word.  Words are so much more than signifiers of neat little packages of meaning; they can do so much more.  Words have color, shade, and a kind of mouth-feel; but most of all, words have associations.  

      This means that the selection of a word carries layers of communication above their conventional, dictionary meanings.  In writing, word choice alone carries the burdens that in face to face communication are also borne by facial expressions, vocal tones, and body language. Love,  hate or indifference can all variously be implied by selections of words which on a purely literal level mean more or less the same thing.

      This is why so much academic writing appears to an outsider (and perhaps to an insider) as "bad".  Professional jargon is not only enables a group of specialists to communicate with concise precision, it also conveys belonging upon people who understand it. So used within a group apparently superfluous jargon can be a good word choice.  "Good" or "bad" choices nearly always boil down to conveying the right message for the context.

      Jargon is usually a fatally bad choice for a persuasive piece, precisely because of this way it has of conferring insider and outsider status the audience.  When preaching to the choir, jargon is entirely appropriate, but when preaching to the flock it is not.

      I've lost my faith in nihilism

      by grumpynerd on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 09:06:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're adept at the wordification of ideas, (7+ / 0-)

        and at descrying obscure intentions. And you make an awful lot of good points.

        In case you feel like reading a worthier diary from today, here is my Diagnose and Distinguish the Qualities of Books: In which Michiko Kakutani's whole oeuvre gets taken down, and replaced by one sentence of C. S. Lewis.

        Also, it contains a link to a parody of Kakutani, which will be the funniest thing you've read all week.

        You may feel grumpy, now, that I'm pimping my diary in your salon. It is not so. I expressly forbid all passersby from looking at my diary - it is for your eyes only.

        Write more diaries. Write more comments. Please.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 12:32:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sorry Brecht (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          CroneWit, ebohlman, PeterHug

          but I am going to click those links. They are too tempting not too. But later... because this is the most interesting and fun and worthwhile (for me) thing I've read on DKos in some time.

          I'll be honest, when I first started reading this diary I was enthralled and totally agreed from an editor's viewpoint, but I also cringed for the original diarist whose work was being skewered so brutally.

          I hadn't read the referenced diary, because the title alone lost me; I don't care at all about Miley Cyrus or the VMA or what everyone is gasping about on the TV. So I just wasn't interested in the topic and didn't open the diary.

          This one, in contrast, drew me in immediately because I love both wine and words -- what could possibly be more alluring than a diary from a Word Sommelier? And sure enough, pure gold here!

          I still haven't read the original diary, and I don't think I care enough about whatever point it might have been trying to make to bother.

          The points raised here about the problems and ridiculousness (in my opinion) of academic writing style is spot on. I am planning to steal some of the comments here to use in my job, which often entails translating writing by various academics into something approachable and accessible to ordinary people. All too often these people are so pretentious and condescending toward the very idea of "dumbing down" their lofty words into ordinary english for the common folk.

          And yet, when you fully dissect what they are actually trying to say, any point you were looking for just keeps receding until it disappears into the mist. Many times they ultimately have no meaningful content, which they (intentionally in many cases) obscure with a blizzard of fancy words.

          I keep the motto "Eschew Obfuscation" posted above my desk. It makes me laugh still, after all these years. It's my job in a nutshell.

          So, in the end, I confess I enjoyed the skewering this diary delivers, and I've been cracking up at the comments -- along with going "wow, that's a keeper!" on more than a few.

          Great way to start my long weekend!

          •  Saw your tip in my jar; thanks for your patronage (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ebohlman, PeterHug

            I was just being coy; I want everyone who cares about words, distinctions, and fine writing to read that diary, and think about its one strong point. I see that grumpynerd cares about all those things, and has a sharp sense of humor.

            I, too, cringe a little for the lady who wrote Is Sexism Sex-Positive? Not So Much. But if she read this diary, I doubt that she felt the full sting, or learned much from it. She is living inside her own conceptual bubble, and I suspect that many of her friends live there too.

            As for Miley, I'm rooting for her. I hate outrage bandwagons. Miley looked ridiculous at the VMAS; she also had fun, spread fun, and gave the world something to talk about. Also, marvel at the confident charisma she had, already at 16.

            I strongly agree with your final paragraphs, and applaud this diary for skewering pompous, tendentious, overwrought prose in general. With tongue and teeth in cheek.

            "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

            by Brecht on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 12:55:32 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I thought that part of the original diary was... (8+ / 0-)

    a joke, or at least an attempt at one.

    I greatly appreciate the WS' response, along with the comments it engendered.  

    Irony is so often underrated.

    Nevertheless, I can't believe an adult actually meant to write that infernal sentence.  

    There's so much quality writing to read these days, so I just shake my head and move on.

    (-7.62,-7.33) Carbon footprint 11.3 metric tons. l'Enfer, c'est les autres.

    by argomd on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 06:53:38 PM PDT

  •  Who wears a dictionary on a chain around his neck? (7+ / 0-)

    Word Sommelier, that's who! Please stop by more often, although awareness of your existence will perhaps even further delay my first attempt at a diary.

    Quite delightful reading. Somehow I could hear Jon Lovett doing the voiceover here, in the event that you were unavailable , of course...

  •  Excellent. Tipped and Rec’d (7+ / 0-)

    I hadn’t thought about the Marxist angle (although there’s a comment about Marx down below).

    When I hear or read the word “objectify,” it’s usually in the phrase “objectifying women,” which means treating women (who are human beings) as objects (things) -- or, in other words, using women as elements of pornography or advertising. Treating them as things. Which is bad.

    Technically, I suppose that reifying something means making it into a thing, but I tend to think of “reify” as turning an abstract concept or idea into something concrete. Religion is full of words like this (“God the (metaphorical) Father” (which doesn’t mean his semen fertilized your mother’s egg, unless you're Jesus Christ) or “The Lord God” (meaning he’s the boss to whom you report, higher even than your duke or earl or king). Another example is that book called "God is my co-pilot." He's not really a co-pilot.

    But there are also times when someone says something like, “If you want to see courage and selflessness, look at that firefighter who saved three children.” So you turn an abstract concept into a person. Which is usually good. Come to think of it, maybe the firefighter thing is personifying (turning a person into a concept). Which would have to be another category.


    Here’s the Marxist angle. When I worked in a used book store, we sometimes had first editions of books (which occasionally sold for outrageous prices). Some customer asked the bookstore owner why first editions were so expensive. She said, “Marx would call it the fetishization of commodities.” People collect first editions (and a signed-by-the-author first is even more valuable). Or people collect Pez dispensers. Or dolls. Or movie posters. If there’s a limited number of something, someone will want it. If it’s rare, people will pay a lot for it.

    You could analyze it from a capitalist viewpoint, too. Supply and demand. Before an author like Stephen King was famous, his first editions had small printings (maybe a few thousand or a few tens of thousands). So they’re quite rare. But later, when he was famous, his publisher might print a million first editions. So they’re common, and they’re not worth a whole lot.

    Another good example is paintings. Let’s say you own a painting by Van Gogh. Is it valuable because of fetishization of commodities (Marx) or because of supply and demand (capitalism)? Or both?

    Is it smart to spend millions on a Van Gogh because it might become more valuable (an investment)? Or is it stupid because it's ultimately just paint on canvas? I don't know.

    "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

    by Dbug on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 10:36:22 PM PDT

  •  People don't naturally write like this. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CroneWit, TomP, PeterHug

    They have to go to college to learn how to do it.

    One more good argument for trade schools.

  •  Can a vocabulary "inflict an utterance"? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Powell, RunawayRose

    I think the pot shouldn't be calling the kettle any names.

    If you hate government, don't run for office in that government.

    by Bensdad on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 12:00:38 AM PDT

    •  Nice try. (6+ / 0-)

      But, I'm sorry, you're mistaken. Our sommelier said afflict, not inflict.

      RIP, Emily Litella.

      However, you're right that we are all heir to these sins to a greater or lesser extent. The more reason to vigilant, to be sure.

      The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it. -Ezra Klein

      by bubbajim on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 03:51:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  More to the point (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        This diary is very badly written, start to finish.

        Its grotesque vocabulary afflicts this poor utterance with all the senselessly baroque articulation of a plain homespun sentence all dressed up to attend the neo-Marxist ball.
        Laughably bad.

        I assume from the diary tags, and some other clues (viz. et al.), that it is intentionally badly written.

        The vocabulary inflicting the utterance with an articulation that is dressed up to go to a ball, is best taken as a joke?

    •  The WS is constantly amazed (6+ / 0-)

      at the tin ear many people have for irony. Consider, for example, the habit he has of always referring to himself in the third person.  It's pompous, but pompous for a good reason.

      Just as what people want to stay lies outside of the Word Sommelier's jurisdiction, so does the formal register they choose to write in. In a nutshell, many people either want to write pompously, or are required by their profession to do so.  But there is a third possibility: some of us write pompously because nature made us that way. Indeed, were you to converse with the Word Sommelier in person, you would be amazed to learn that there is not a whit of difference between the way he writes and the way he speaks.  There is, for example, his penchant for starting sentences with "indeed" -- not to mention his annoying habit of tacking extra clauses onto a sentence.  In fact when speaking the Word Sommelier actually pronounces the em-dash -- like this: "em-dash".

      Fortunately pompous writing need not be bad writing -- at least not irretrievably so. Pompous writing varies in its effectiveness like any other writing. Since much of the expressive range of grammar and structure are denied us, those of us inflicted with this infirmity pick our words carefully, less we afflict others with unreadable prose.  That, dear reader, is the source of the Word Sommelier's uncanny knack for word choice.

      I've lost my faith in nihilism

      by grumpynerd on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 07:23:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's a good discussion of something I didn't and (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, CroneWit

    wouldn't watch. A time saver. Thanks.:)

  •  There is a name for people who speak like that. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, Radiowalla

    Pompous Prat

  •  Legal slavery was based on a reification. (0+ / 0-)

    Human beings had to be defined as things, so they could be owned as property; thus making it necessary that property rights trump human rights. 'Tis a positive accomplishment, albeit an example of the desired ends justifying the means.
    People wanted to own other people, so some people had to be defined as less. African captives were not, however, unique. The same process applies to children and the wives of traditional marriages.
    Why is it good for wives and children to be owned? It only seems fair. Wives and children make demands for a share of the available resources. It only seems fair that they make obeisance in return. Ungenerous males are to blame.

    •  I differ. I submit that objectification (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is the better word to describe your statement. It's more clearly understood and I think more accurate. Slavery was the "thing," not the slave, if it is reification you are speaking of.

      Now, I would say that the abolition movement helped reify human rights by positing that the slaves deserved freedom solely because they were human beings.

      The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it. -Ezra Klein

      by bubbajim on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 04:07:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A better example of reification (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        would be corporate personhood as it's come to be understood. A corporation is an abstract legal entity that was originally created to allow a changing group of people to do certain very limited legally defined things (primarily owning property) that could ordinarily only be done (as far as the law was concerned) by a real person.

        Reification comes in when that abstract entity is treated in general discussion and law as if it had all the characterstics of a real person, even the ones that literally stem from a real person being made of flesh and blood.

        Personally, as a physician, I would be very concerned at a child becoming febrile after having ingested bleach or had it shot up his rectum—Orac (Respectful Insolence)

        by ebohlman on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 02:40:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Even better examples are rife in logic and math (0+ / 0-)

          For example, you can reify the addition function on integers by thinking of it as an infinite set of triples of numbers, where the third number is the sum of the first two.

          In essence, you take a process or machine and turn it into a static object that can then be analyzed in novel ways.  This is especially useful if you are trying to prove what such a machine is capable or incapable of accomplishing.

          For example, you can reify the process of evaluating logical/arithmetical expressions, allowing you to reason about the computational engine itself.  That trick lets you prove things about the limitations of such processes, for example Godel's famous incompleteness theorem (that sufficiently complex logical systems must be incomplete or inconsistent), or Turing's proof for the halting problem (that there is no computer program which can tell you if arbitrary other programs halt or not).

          For logicians, mathematicians and computer scientists, reification is a standard arrow in their quiver of tricks.

  •  I fear for what it meant (0+ / 0-)

    I suspect the original meant that the young Visigoth's performance simply made paternal and masculine habits of objectification of women into an object which could be viewed by herself and other viewers. However, having committed to "objectification" for the psychological jargon value, it couldn't be used.

    Everyone's innocent of some crime.

    by The Geogre on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 04:43:40 AM PDT

  •  Oh... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I kept trying to figure what reification could possibly mean.
    The ify/ification is simple, the first turns a noun into a verb, the second turns it back into a noun again.

    Deus=god. Deify=to make into a god. Deification=the process of making one into a god.
    But reify?

    At first the "re" looks just like a prefix(re-adjust, realign, etc).

    But Re=res=thing.
    Rerurm natura=in the nature of things.
    Res ipsa=the very thing; the thing itself.

    I'm still struggling to translate reify smoothly. Something like=to wrest control, to cease being passive?

    •  Let the WS help. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dclawyer06, CroneWit, TomP, PeterHug

      The natural history of the word "reify" could explain your difficulty.  It has never been found in the wild; it is a Franken-word if you will, conceived as jargon in one field, and spread to many other fields by contagion. In each field, "reify" has a meaning that differs from the meanings in other fields, but bears a family resemblance to them.  In a sense, it is likely that nobody understands the word "reify" in all it's various senses; but you can get a rough idea of what is being said by mastering one sense from one field.

      Since you are a lawyer, the easiest example would be from linguistics.  In English, there is  common sentence pattern that goes: noun, verb, direct object.  Pay attention to the direct object, it is the thing that receives the action of the verb (e.g., "Alice threw the ball.").

      Suppose Bob takes the stand and testifies, "Alice said 'I threw the ball.'"  Here Bob has grammatically reified Alice's statement, that is to say he is treating it like a thing for purposes of grammar (in grammar direct objects are supposed to be "things").

      In artificial intelligence, as in law, one often needs to reify statements, e.g. "Model X asserts Y," where "Y" is some assertion that we may or may not want to credit.  Without the ability to reify an assertion, it would not be possible to record it in a knowledge base without believing it.

      Now in both these fields, "reification" is a sensible process that allows us to process information without necessarily crediting it. But in most fields, "reification" is a bit of a dodgy process. The common thread is that it is treating something as a "thing", but usually it refers to spuriously treating an abstraction as if it were concrete.

      In 1777, Georgia adopted a constitution which abolished primogeniture -- the practice of inheritance of an estate by the eldest son -- in favor of dividing an intestate estate equally among the widow and children.  Suppose Bob is the eldest son; he feels robbed by the framers of the new constitution because his interest in the future value of the house has been reduced. He feels they have "taken it away" from him.

      So does Bob have any claim in law against the framers? Of course not. Bob has spuriously reified his interest in his future share of the house, treated it as if it were a concrete thing that he could own.  And in fact in contracts I suppose he could treat it as property, it is alienable at least.  But in this case he can't argue it was seized by the constitutional convention, because it is not a thing that he owns. It is the consequence of an arbitrary convention.

      Reify can also be used to denote the mirror image process; let us refer to the two halves of the process as "A" and "B". In process A, capitalists create an abstract concept (pick your choice, "capital" will do) to which they spuriously (in Marxist theory at least) assign attributes such as value that properly only belong to the worker's labor.  He has "reified" capital -- treated the abstraction as if it were concrete.  

      The flip side of this scenario, B, is in which workers are deprived of the fruits of their labor.  The capitalist creates an stand-in abstraction for labor, calling perhaps "the workforce", and then proceeds to deal with it in his thinking rather than the flesh-and-blood workers. He has reified the abstract concept "workforce" treating it as concrete so it scan serve its purpose as a proxy for real workers. "Capital" gets some attributes of the workers, "the workforce" others, but they're both arbitrary conventions, just like primogeniture.

      So how do we refer to the effect of this on workers?  They have been replaced by an abstract concept, then treated as if they were that concept.   By confusing shorthand, we also call that "reification".  They are treated as things, which I suppose they are, but not, living, thinking, conscious things.   So in this case "reification" can mean treat a thing as a different kind of thing, through the mediation of a proxy concept.  Still, I think a better word for this in the Marxist lexicon would be "alienation".

      The common theme in these is creating a kind of conceptual handle for something that makes it easier or possible to do something.  For example "branding" in market-speak is regarded by Marxists as reification; it is the creation of an abstraction ("Betty Crocker", "Microsoft"), to which labor value can be attributed.

      I've lost my faith in nihilism

      by grumpynerd on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 08:45:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ah, that makes sense now. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TomP, CroneWit, PeterHug

        I appreciate your examples. They really add a clarity.

        The word caught my attention b/c it struck me as plausible, with easily identifiable morphemes(except for my brief confusion over re as prefix meaning: back, again vs. its actual meaning: matter, thing), but I still couldn't put it together. Something that should have been easy.

        Thanks for the assist.

        You should make this a series.

  •  I'm such a dumbass that I had to look up sommelier (0+ / 0-)

    so I had no chance of understanding what the original diarist was saying. I really appreciate writers who convey their ideas using the simplest words possible.

    Play chess for the Kossacks on Join the site, then the group at

    by rmonroe on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 08:23:17 AM PDT

  •  As an editor myself (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grumpynerd, CroneWit, TomP, PeterHug, CS in AZ

    I've often noticed the tendency of authors to try to use such "highfalutin" words, but unfortunately, as in the example you give, this often causes the sentence to sound like gibberish to the average reader. Additionally, in a huge number of cases, the authors misunderstand what these words actually mean and misuse them. So in reality, the writing IS gibberish.

    My guess is that those who write like this either think they're coming across as sounding more intelligent or else are attempting to be ultracreative (the Liberace of writers). When the publishers send me manuscripts to edit, however, they are not impressed but snicker at such writing, calling it "purple prose," and ask me to rewrite any such passages. (Wikipedia defines "purple prose" as "written prose that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself.")

    BTW, you did an excellent job in rewriting the offending sentence! One minor note, however: the Chicago Manual of Style and other modern-day guides call for using an "s" with possessives regardless of what letter the word ends with, and thus Cyrus's would have been correct if this were going into publication.

    •  The Word Sommelier thanks you for your kind words. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chantedor, TomP, CroneWit, PeterHug, CS in AZ

      And he agrees with you on the pluralization issue. However punctuation, like grammar is not his beat. His grasp of these areas lacks the uncanny accuracy of his word choices. For example, had he a chance to do it over again he'd have reversed the order of clauses in his reconstructed sentence.

      The Word Sommelier has come to the conclusion that users of "hifalutin" words are not so much trying to come across as highly intelligent, but rather to demonstrate their belonging to certain group that writes this way.  This explains the difficulty of expurgating this habit.  Once it is clear that using "big" words doesn't make a writer sound more intelligent, a writer trying to sound smart would immediately stop using them, but a writer trying to show his "colors" will resist. You're asking him to give up part of his identity.

      The Word Sommelier, by the way, simply adores purple prose.  But it can become tiresome.

      By the way, what kind of manuscripts do you edit?

      I've lost my faith in nihilism

      by grumpynerd on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 09:20:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good point (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TomP, CroneWit, PeterHug, CS in AZ

        Some of the authors have squawked about the editing, saying that was their "writer's voice." But in most cases, the managing editor at the publisher serves as a go-between, so I don't have to deal with them after doing my job.

        I edit book manuscripts on a variety of nonfiction topics. For one publisher, this includes history, nature, outdoor activities, crafts, and a few oddities such as guides to breweries, true crime, and ghost stories (whether or not these last are nonfiction is debatable). Another is a university publisher that mainly deals with history topics, with a focus on Lincoln. I also edit papers and articles for a think tank on environmental economics issues (this one might be of interest to Kossacks; google Resources for the Future).

      •  In the cases I have the most experience with (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        it is a professional requirement. I refer to bureaucratese, which I prefer to call "bafflegab" because of the bafflement that such speech is intended to produce among the uninitiated, the unwashed, or hoi polloi (The hoi polloi is an interlingual solecism like pizza pie.)

        I first heard the word "bafflegab" spoken by Tom Baker as Doctor Who.

        Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

        by Mokurai on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 08:03:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  You are optimally self-named, I'll give you that. (0+ / 0-)

    I imagine you with the big rapper-style medal and everything.  I think the word choice was close enough to what the diarist intended that it doesn't deserve to be singled out as a bad word choice.  It's inexact in a way that doesn't really do any harm.  Ironically (I know, I'm holding up a metal pole in a lightning storm with that one), my encounter with the word came in a sympathetic exposition of Hayek's thought...definitely not one of the Frankfurters!

    Returning to the sommelier thing (don't you go critiquing my use of "thing," you hear?), I've had interactions with sommeliers who heightened my enjoyment of the evening, and others that made me as contemptuous of any sort of knowledge-based authority as the typical Fox News viewer.  I don't want to make too much of one virtual encounter, but I suspect you'd be able to pull off both simultaneously!

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 01:11:57 PM PDT

    •  For the record, my definition of reify.... (0+ / 0-) the misunderstanding of an essentially descriptive concept such that it's imbued with autonomous explanatory power.  It's a form of instrumentalized laziness, used by the powerful to make social reality seem inevitable and permanent.

      You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

      by Rich in PA on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 01:15:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Quite wonderful (0+ / 0-)

    As another German philosopher said, or came close to saying, vocabulary is the disease of which it should be the cure...

    Reality is a good thing to know about, as long as you keep it separate from the Opera we live in

    by greatferm on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 01:55:15 PM PDT

  •  Do you think "reification" is appropriate (0+ / 0-)

    any time someone treats abstractions as if they were actually "energy events in time and space" objects and not a kind of shorthand/summary, as did Korzybski in General Semantics? Or is the word suitable only in Marxist contexts?

    The Korzybskian usage is very helpful to me in understanding points of confusion in many areas of life and thought.

    Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

    by Jim P on Sat Aug 31, 2013 at 02:01:21 PM PDT

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