Apologies To Twitter PhilologistsAugust 8, 2012
I off-handedly used the word “exosemantic” in a twitter discussion last night, because I am a huge tool. I feel pretty bad about it, especially since the conversation was about annoyance at “big words” (meaning: very heavy words, not very long words). So I thought I’d write out the analogy in my head, because it seems like the only honorable thing to do at this point.
volume – the phonetic, syntactic, and morphological space that a word occupies. A very “long” word is one with a lot of syllables, a very “tall” word is one with a lot of morphemes.
mass – the semantic, pragmatic, and social impact of a word. A very “heavy” word has not only a lot of specific entailments, but may also have a lot of socially linked implicatures that are strongly bound to the word itself or to its use in certain contexts.
density = mass/volume. A very dense word is one with a low volume and a heavy mass. A very non-dense word is one with a high volume but very little mass.
exosemantic – the part of a word or statement that isn’t its strict entailments, but which are extremely common implicatures– specifically, these shouldn’t be contextual or Gricean implicatures, but socially bound ones, which have been formed by continued use of the word in particular contexts, or by particular speakers. The exosemantics of a word may eventually become incorporated into the defining entailments.
There should be a correlate, endosemantic, but this would simply be the lexical entailments of a word, so I don’t know that we need a new word for that. I don’t actually think we necessarily need a new word for exosemantic either, since you could probably explain it in sociolinguistic and pragmatic terms, but it gets very subjective and weird and hard to pin down, in that region of meaning, so I wanted a history-free label to use without weirding anyone out. (Also it sounds cool.)