Sense and Meaning

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“Chuang Tzu, some twenty-four centuries ago, dreamt he was a butterfly and did not know, when he awoke, if he was a man who had dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly who now dreamt he was a man.”

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“Contrary to what is generally believed, meaning and sense were never the same thing, meaning shows itself at once, direct, literal, explicit, enclosed in itself, univocal, if you like, while sense cannot stay still, it seethes with second, third and fourth senses, radiating out in different directions that divide and subdivide into branches and branch-lets, until they disappear from view, the sense of every word is like a star hurling spring tides out into space, cosmic winds, magnetic perturbations, afflictions.”

Jose Saramago, “All the Names,” translated by Margaret Jull Costa, London: The Harvill Press, p. 115

The root of the word “meaning” can be traced to the Old Saxon menian – “intend, signify, make known,” whereas the word “sense” is etymologically connected to the five senses and may be a figurative use of a literal meaning “to find one’s way.” Consequently, meaning may be understood as…

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