Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Matter of Semantics

All our work, our whole life is a matter of semantics, because words are the tools with which we work, the material out of which laws are made, out of which the Constitution was written. Everything depends on our understanding of them. - Felix Frankfurter

Take for example the famous line students have to master on their keyboards in their Typing 101 subject:
“The quick brown fox jump over the lazy dog near the bank of the river.”

For a plagiarist, all he has to do is consult a thesaurus, replace some words with its synonym and he can claim it as his own. The result may be similar to this:
“The swift auburn colored fox leaps over the idle dog close to the river’s bank.”

Others may see it differently. An attorney may express it in another way, depending on whose side he represents, as in:

“On November 21st, 2008, between 1 and 2 o’clock PM, at the vicinity of the river bank, the quick brown fox, henceforth be known as the defendant, with full intent, knowingly, willfully, maliciously and in a treacherous manner perpetrated the act of jumping over the back of the lazy dog, henceforth be identified as the plaintiff, thus the defendant performed the said act without proper approval, unknowing to and unwilling on the part of the plaintiff...”

To an engineer, he may convey it in a more abstract and technical manner:

Ht = total height of jump
R = total length of jump
g = acceleration of gravity constant
Vi = initial vertical velocity of fox
Vh = horizontal velocity of fox
h1 = dog’s height at laying position.
h2 = height fox should achieve with
respect to dog

“Assuming uniform gravity, in order for the fox to achieve a successful jump (see. Fig. 1), its horizontal velocity (Vh) and initial vertical velocity (Vi) are factors that should always be taken into consideration.”

For a novelist with a tendency to use flowery words and tons of adjectives, it may appear like this:

“Near a brook, like a brown haze, came the fox, swift as the wind and with great agility leaps into the air, over and beyond the sluggish, unsuspecting hound. “

How it is written, may it be eloquently, technically or in a confusing legalistic manner, the final impression will be on the reader. The outcome, whether it’s the same or remotely far from the author’s idea, will depend on the person’s understanding and interpretation of what he reads. Come to think of it, it may even be dangerous, especially if the reader possesses influence.

Like a single “holy” book that sprouted several religions, its interpretation is the key. Some understand it literally and practice its content to the letter, as what fundamentalist do. Others interpret it in a progressive way and revolutionize its principle along with time. Still a much older sect, predecessor of todays protestants, twist, mangle and revise the book’s tenet according to its own interest.

But what worries me, and I find alarming, is when unscrupulous individuals interpret the laws of the land differently from what our forefathers intended it to be. Be wary of persons who seek loop-holes in our laws where he could insert his personal interest. Be wary still of persons in authority who’ll try to change our laws in order to stay in power. Suspect anything they do no matter how noble or nationalistic their reasons are. They are so crooked and clever that they will even hide behind legalistic mumbo-jumbo to achieve their purpose. To them it’s nothing but a matter of semantics.


  1. sa design pards,meron din ganyang study..interpretation and theory of drawings and design..may mga symbols din na gamit,architectural,electrical,civil,etc.

    pag nakuha ang specific semantics meaning,maiintindihan ang flow ng trabaho dito,by means of legend.

  2. Wow! Ang galing, gusto ko ang post na ito! (,"o

    I agree with your analogy with the religion or the Biblical thing. Very good.

    Can I present the semantics of that fox and a dog from a Veterinary Medicine point of view?

    A 2-year old wild canine with a healthy brown hair coat had been injected with epinephrine, and as the drug reached its bloodstream its sympathetic nervous system was stimulated—priming the said feral animal for fighting mechanism.

    An environmental stimulus was present—a domesticated canine which had been tentatively diagnosed of having an acute, severe parasitic infection—near the possibly infested or contaminated drinking water supply.

    The stimulus (domesticated canine) had been perceived by the feral canine as a threat, so there was an acceleration of its heart and lung function, liberation of nutrients for muscular action, dilatation of the pupil (of the eye), salivation and loss of peripheral vision!

    The drug (epinephrine) effect: the wild canine ferociously attacked the domesticated canine!

  3. ever, I know what you mean, may color coding pa nga. Pag itim, electrical lines, pag asul, water lines, pag asugi, gray lines, pag mali, fault line. : )

    RJ, to be frank, wala akong naintindihan sa mga terminologies mo. Para kang nagsasalita ng French. : D

  4. Nakapa illuminating ng post mo.

    Sa mga bibles ko napapansin yan. Iba-ibang version, iba-ibang interpretation. Tapos parang iba ang pakahulugan ng bawat isa. Kaya lalong nakakalito.

  5. I like it when i understand the text better than I cannot understand it at all, it just bores me to death, our laws, actually are simple, and the way we understand it is the only thing that matters!

  6. "But what worries me, and I find alarming, is when unscrupulous individuals interpret the laws of the land differently from what our forefathers intended it to be."

    >>> very nice point of view. that's the danger of creating misunderstandings. i dont know who we can blame for that.

  7. I know some people who can turn flaw into a beauty just like turning black into white. This is very sensible post. =)

  8. Nebz, the main thing is you got faith. Religion is secondary. Sabi nga "be at peace with your God, whom ever you concieve Him to be... " - Desiderata

    sheng, kahit ako, I'm furious with myself if I can't understand what I'm reading.

    donG, some people create misunderstanding among individuals so they could be controled easily. "Divide and role" ika nga, parang micromanagement. Teka sino ba ang mahilig sa micromanagement. : )

    Ms.Jo, thank you. re: "Turning black into white"? Ang alam ko si Michael Jackson. : )

  9. with the explosion of knowledge many studies and new discoveries were published almost everyday.When A scientist discovers something and became known or famous for these,often?, his next discoveries were plagiarized or doctored to keep it up from the expectation of his avid followers.Take the case of the famous Korean scientist earlier he successfully cloned a dog and a cow and acclaimed fame for doing so,Then after a year he published a new in the journal of medicine that this time he can create a stem cell far easier than the common way of producing it,Well one of his confidante squeak on the media,it turns out most of his data on this project were either fabricated or copied.What an embarassment to the world scientific community and to his people all his previous accomplishment went all down the drain.The quest of that elusive fame is really the mother of all plagiarism.

  10. hello po. Congrats nasa Top 3 kau sa voting category ng Top10Pinoy Expats blog. Some categories are content, and metrics.

    Voting for the Top10Pinoy Expats/OFW blog ends on 30th of December, please vote for this site. Please email us your email address to so we can email you some info about the search project. Please blog also about the search project so ur visitors can vote for you. Thank you again.

    Goodluck and happy holidays!

  11. bwehehehe. natuwa naman ako sa attorney's version. :-)

  12. and by the way, this is an excellent essay. you should submit this in some contest somewhere.

  13. ed v., some people will do anything, even beg, steal or borrow just to be at the top. Teka para akong si Frank Sinatra ah.

    R-yo, tama ba yung phrasing ko? Pwede na bang clerk sa Court of First Instance?

  14. Hi! We are currently doing a study on blogging and would like to invite you to fill out a survey that we have prepared regarding this topic. This will only take 5-10 minutes of your time. 

  15. Kenji, na email ko na and thanks for the info. I'll try to blog about it the moment I received your response. Happy Holiday din sa yo at sa pamilya mo!

    Blogger, no thanks, and next time you invite somebody in your survey, make it personal and not some "canned" letter you "cut-and-paste". You need us, we don't need you!

  16. Hi, I've tagged you here.

    Do it lang if you have spare time. Happy tuesday! =)

  17. the way you wrote "the quick brown fox..." in different ways was very creative indeed!

  18. The bible is a classic case of several interpretations ! Even with the Koran that is pristinely written in a single language which is Arabic, it still produced a few Islamic sects.

    It is human nature to interpret things your way but sadly, many people embellish and twist the subject for their won self-interests :(

  19. Ms.Jo, I'll try to do it the moment I can get inside your blog for the tag details.

    Mimi, thank you. : )

    bwzone, islamic sects in the ME follows only one Koran. They only differ politically. For example:
    Sunni - Believes only the first 4 kalifa (religious leader) are the only annointed ones.
    Shi’ah - Insist Ali (mohammed's cousin) should be the first kalifa and rejects the first 4 kalifas.
    Twelvers (a branch of Shi’ah) - acknowledge only the first "twelve" kalifa after the prophet.

  20. True, it is one Koran and written in Arabic but I still think that there is a case mis-interpretation. The case of the sects squabbling with the religious relevance of the koranic khalifas is a case in point. The Shiites give more reverence to Imam Hussien and the Ismaelis have Aga Khan as one of their prophets.

  21. bwzone, O sayo din galing yan ha. Actually walang pagkakaiba in the way they interpret with regards to the koranic teachings. They only differ as to which leader they should follow. Besides that, their interpretation of Shariah law (laws created in accordance to koranic teaching)and the Suna'a (life of prophet Mohammed)also differs.