Elements of Fiction


(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

(All quotes by S.I. Hayakawa unless otherwise indicated)

“Semantics is the study of human interaction through the mechanisms of linguistic communication. Consequent to the exchange of communications, co-operation sometimes results, and sometimes conflict. The basic ethical assumption of semantics, analogous to the medical assumption that health is preferable to illness, is that co-operation is preferable to conflict.”

“Whenever agreement or assent is arrived at in human affairs . . . this agreement is reached by linguistic process, or else it is not reached.” Benjamin Lee Whorf

“Most of the time when we are listening to the noises people make or looking at the black marks on paper that stand for such noises, we are drawing upon the experience of others in order to make up what we ourselves have missed.”

“While animals use only a few limited cries, however, human beings use extremely complicated systems of sputtering, hissing, gurgling, clucking, and cooing noises called language, with which they express and report what goes on in their nervous systems.”

“In addition to having developed language, man has also developed means of making, on clay tables, bits of wood or stone, skins of animals, and paper, more or less permanent marks and scratches that stand for language. These marks enable him to communicate with people who are beyond the reach of his voice, both in space and in time.”

“From books and magazines, we learn how hundreds of people whom we shall never be able to see have felt and thought.”

“All of us who can read any of the major European or Asian languages are potentially in touch with the intellectual resources of centuries of human endeavor in all parts of the civilized world.”

“Language, that is to say, is the indispensable mechanism of human life — of life such as ours that is molded, guided, enriched, and made possible by the accumulation of the past experience of members of our own species.”

“From the warning cry of primitive man to the latest scientific monograph or radio newsflash, language is social. Cultural and intellectual co-operation is the great principle of human life.”

“What is an ‘idea’ if it is not the verbalization of a cerebral itch?”

“This basic need, which certainly is obvious only in man, is the need of symbolization. The symbol-making function is one of man’s primary activities, like eating, looking, or moving about. It is the fundamental process of the mind, and goes on all the time.” Susanne K. Langer

“Man’s achievements rest upon the use of symbols.” Alfred Korzybski

“We are, as human beings, uniquely free to manufacture and manipulate and assign values to our symbols as we please.”

“There are few things that men do or want to do, possess or want to possess, that have not, in addition to their mechanical or biological value, a symbolic value.”

“Of all forms of symbolism, language is the most highly developed, most subtle, and most complicated. It has been pointed out that human beings, by agreement, can make anything stand for anything. Now, human beings have agreed, in the course of centuries of mutual dependency, to let the various noises that they can produce with their lungs, throats, tongues, teeth, and lips systematically stand for specified happenings in their nervous systems. We call that system of agreements language.”

“There is, as has been said, no necessary connection between the symbol and that which is symbolized.”

“Symbols and things symbolized are independent of each other; nevertheless, we all have a way of feeling as if, and sometimes acting as if, there were necessary connections.”

“The word is not the thing.”

“Much of the make-believe activity of small children, even as young as two years, appears to arise from the spontaneous and joyous discovery of the symbolic process, involving clear distinctions between symbols and things symbolized and a pleasure in the independence and manipulability of symbols. A great deal of the natural wisdom of children is, however, snuffed out in the course of their education.”

“The first of the principals governing symbols is this: The symbol is NOT the thing symbolized; the word is NOT the thing; the map is NOT the territory it stands for.”

“Let us call this world that comes to us through words the verbal world, as opposed to the world we know or are capable of knowing through our own experience, which we shall call the extensional world.”

“This verbal world ought to stand in relation to the extensional world as a map does to the territory it is supposed to represent. . . . Now, no matter how beautiful a map may be, it is useless to a traveler unless it accurately shows the relationship of places to each other, the structure of the territory.”

“The common characteristics of inferences is that they are statements about matters that are not directly known, made on the basis of what has been observed.”

“By judgments we shall mean all expressions of the writer’s approval or disapproval of the occurrences, persons, or objects he is describing.”

“This process of selecting details that are favorable or unfavorable to the subject being described my be termed slanting.”

“The extensional meaning of an utterance is that which it points to or denotes in the extensional world. . . . That is to say, the extensional meaning is something that cannot be expressed in words, because it is that which the word stands for.”

“The intensional meaning of a word or expression, on the other hand, is that which is suggested (connoted) inside one’s head.”

“When words are used as vocal equivalents of expressive gestures, we shall say that language is being used in presymbolic ways.”

“Such terms as ‘emotional’ and ‘emotive’ which imply misleading distinctions between the ‘emotional appeals’ and ‘intellectual appeals’ of language, should be carefully avoided. In any case, ‘emotional’ applies too specifically to strong feelings. The word ‘affective,’ however, in such an expression as the ‘affective uses of language,’ describes not only the way in which language can arouse strong feelings, but also the way in which it arouses extremely subtle, sometimes unconscious, responses. ‘Affective’ has the further advantage of introducing no inconvenient distinctions between ‘physical’ and ‘mental’ responses.”

“Considering language from the point of view of the hearer, we can say that report language informs us but that these expressive uses of language (for example, judgments and what we have called presymbolic functions) affectus — that is, affect our feelings. When language is affective, it has the character of a kind of force. A spoken insult, for example, provokes a return insult, just as a blow provokes a return blow.”

“And the first of the affective elements in speech, as we have seen, is the tone of voice, its loudness or softness, its pleasantness or unpleasantness, its variations during the course of the utterance in volume and intonation.”

“Another affective element in language is rhythm. Rhythm is the name we give to the effect produced by the repetition of auditory (or kinesthetic) stimuli at fairly regular intervals.”

“From the boom-boom of a childish drum to the subtle nuances of cultivated poetry and music, there is a continuous development and refinement of man’s responsiveness to rhythm.”

“To produce rhythm is to arouse attention and interest; so affective is rhythm, indeed, that it catches our attention even when we do not want our attention distracted. Rhyme and alliteration are, of course, ways of emphasizing rhythm in language, through repetition of similar sounds at regular intervals.”

“In addition to tone of voice and rhythm, another extremely important affective element in language is the aura of feelings, pleasant or unpleasant, that surrounds practically all words. . . . These connotations can be divided into two kinds, the informative and the affective.”

“The informative connotations of a word are its socially agreed-upon, ‘impersonal’ meanings.”

“The affective connotations of a word, on the other hand, are the aura of personal feelings it arouses.”

“It is the existence of these feelings that enable us to use words, under certain circumstances, for their affective connotations alone, without regard to their informative connotations.”

“All words have, according to the uses to which they are put, some affective character.”

“We have to be accurate in choosing words that have the informative connotations we want; otherwise the reader or hearer will not know what we are talking about.”

“In addition, we have to give those words the affective connotations we want in order that he will be interested or moved by what we are saying, and feel towards things the way we do. This double task confronts us in almost all ordinary conversation, oratory, persuasive writing, and literature. Much of this task, however, is performed intuitively; without being aware of it, we choose the tone of voice, the rhythms, and the affective connotations appropriate to our utterance.”

“Over the informative connotations of our utterances we exercise somewhat more conscious control. Improvement in our ability to understand language, as well as in our ability to use it, depends, therefore, not only upon sharpening our sense for the informative connotations of words, but also upon the sharpening of our insight into the affective elements in language through social experience, through contact with many kinds of people in many kinds of situations, and through literary study.”

“Attempts to control, direct, or influence the future action of fellow human beings with words may be termed directive uses of language.”

Practically all directive utterances say something about the future. They are ‘maps,’ either explicitly or by implication, of ‘territories’ that are to be.”

“The language of science is instrumental in getting done the work necessary for life, but it does not tell us anything about what life feels like in the living.”

“This process of abstracting, of leaving characteristics out, is an indispensable convenience.”

“Definitions, contrary to popular opinion, tell us nothing about things. They only describe people’s linguistic habits; that is, they tell us what noises people make under what conditions. Definitions should be understood as statements about language.”

“People often believe, having defined a word, that some kind of understanding has been established, ignoring the fact that the words in the definition often conceal even more serious confusions and ambiguities than the word defined.”

“Ultimately, no adequate definition of ‘apple pie’ can be given in words — one has to examine and taste an actual apple pie.”

“The operational definition . . . is one that tells you what to do and what to observe in order to bring the thing defined or its effects within the range of one’s experience.” Anatol Rapoport

“It is obvious, then, that interesting speech and interesting writing, as well as clear thinking and psychological adjustment, require the constant interplay of higher and lower level abstractions, and the constant interplay of the verbal levels with the nonverbal (‘object’) levels.”

“The work of good novelists and poets also represent this constant interplay between higher and lower levels of abstraction. A ‘significant’ novelist or poet is one whose message has a high level of general usefulness in providing insight into life; but he gives his generalizations an impact and power to convince through his ability to observe and describe actual social situations and states of mind.”

“The interesting writer, the informative speaker, the accurate thinker, and the well-adjusted individual, operate on all levels of the abstraction ladder, moving quickly and gracefully and in orderly fashion from higher to lower, from lower to higher — with minds as lithe and deft and beautiful as monkeys in a tree.”




Raised by trolls in northern Sweden, now settled on the California coast a stone’s throw south of the Oregon border. Here I meditate and write. Wolfstuff.com.

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Ulf Wolf

Ulf Wolf

Raised by trolls in northern Sweden, now settled on the California coast a stone’s throw south of the Oregon border. Here I meditate and write. Wolfstuff.com.

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