A simply written book that conveys rich and powerful ideas. The topic of the book is semantics, which is the study of what words mean. To elaborate on the meaning and use of language, Hayakawa draws on an abundance of material. He discusses problems of everyday life, how television has influenced our perception of the truth, Nazi Germany propaganda, advertising as poetry, institutional inertia and the barrier it creates in realising social progress, and much, much more. This book more than anything is about critical thinking, ensuring abstract ideas are grounded in reality and common decency.
This book is tied for first as my favourite book of the year so far (along with Zero To One) and is definitely pushing up there with some of my all-time favourites. I don’t think I can even fully grasp this book yet, and it is one I will revisit and reread in part or in whole many times over. It has planted seeds deep in my mind, I now have the task of watering them.
“Common sense is what tells us the earth is flat.”
“To perceive how language works, what pitfalls it conceals, what its possibilities are, is to comprehend a crucial aspect of the complicated business of living the life of a human being.”
“If our ideas and beliefs are held with an awareness of abstracting, they can be changed if found to be inadequate or erroneous. But if they are held without an awareness of abstracting-if our mental maps are believed to be the territory-they are prejudices. As teachers or parents, we cannot help passing on to the young a certain amount of misinformation and error, however hard we may try not to. But if we teach them to be habitually conscious of the process of abstraction, we give them the means by which to free themselves from whatever erroneous notions we may have inadvertently taught them.”