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Just Semantics

The endocrinologist wore a white coat to match the thatch of white hair surmounting his pate and wrote my anamnesis down hurriedly without looking up, occasionally repeating his questions because he hadn’t heard my answers. (The doctor was hard of hearing but, typical of his profession, obviously hadn’t bothered to remedy the condition.) When my narrative came to benign prostatic hyperplasia, I interrupted to ask about the difference between ‘hyperplasia’ and ‘hypertrophy’, since the condition is vernacularly known as ‘enlargement’. His answer, pronounced with what passed for a smile, was: “That’s just semantics.” Then, evidently embarrassed, he backed up and gave a short definition of each of the terms.

This common denigration of the science of meaning is particularly unfortunate coming from a physician, who of all professionals should be sensitive to the profound bond between words and feelings, hence to the prominent role language and its precise use play in the healing arts.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

2 Responses to “Just Semantics”

  • Stumbled on this after doing some searching after reading your salient note [= letter to the Sunday Book Review] in the NYTimes. I fully agree with your placement of Peirce at the pinnacle.

    What do you make of Derrida’s time in Cambridge studying Peirce? On the subject of this post, I had my prostate robotically removed at Mt. Sinai a few years ago and have strong feelings regarding the procedures used to arrive at a reasonable diagnosis, etc.

    • Michael Shapiro says:

      I think that what explains Derrida’s misprision of Peirce is the fact that he took the 1867 Peirce to be etched in stone and wasn’t in the slightest aware of the post-1906 Peirce, i.e., of the mature Peirce, whose semeiotic widened to embrace the natural world beyond human consciousness.

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