Saturday, 10 December 2011

"It means what I choose it to mean"

'You don't know what you're talking about!' cried Humpty Dumpty. 'How many days are there in a year?'
'Three hundred and sixty-five,' said Alice.
'And how many birthdays have you?'
'One.'
'And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five what remains?'
'Three hundred and sixty-four, of course.'
Humpty Dumpty looked doubtful. 'I'd rather see that done on paper,' he said.
Alice couldn't help smiling as she took out her memorandum book, and worked the sum for him:
365
1
----
364
----
Humpty Dumpty took the book and looked at it carefully. 'That seems to be done right —' he began.
'You're holding it upside down!' Alice interrupted.
'To be sure I was!' Humpty Dumpty said gaily as she turned it round for him. 'I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that seems to be done right — though I haven't time to look it over thoroughly just now — and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents —'
'Certainly,' said Alice.
'And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'
'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

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