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June 29, 2006

Dictionary Whore

One of the coolest things about my boyfriend that he taught me to use dictionaries. Not how to use them (I learned that in elementary school), but to use them, as in he taught me the value of looking up words I don't know, or even words I do know. He also brought several dictionaries into my life. The first year we were together, I planned to give him the Fourth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary because he had told me that he coveted it. But my birthday is a week before his and he stole my idea, giving me the College Edition of the AHD. I still went ahead with my plan, so we now have one upstairs and one downstairs, in the dining room. This is a very handy place for it because we frequently need to look up words during dinner. His old dictionary is now in the car. One might ask why we would need a dictionary in the car, but trust me, we use it. Often.

Here are two pairs of words that I have been curious about lately:

immanent: 1. Existing or remaining within; inherent. 2. Restricted entirely to the mind; subjective.
transcendent: 1. Surpassing others; preeminent or supreme. 2. Lying beyond the ordinary range of perception. 3. Being beyond the limits of experience and hence unknowable. 4. Being above and independent of the material universe.

identity: 1. The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known. 2. The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group. 3. The quality or condition of being the same as something else. 4. The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality.
alterity: The state or quality of being other.

These pairs appear to be antonyms: immanent, or internal, is the opposite of transcendent, or external. Identity, or sameness, is the opposite of alterity, or difference/otherness. But the third and fourth definitions of identity appear to contradict each other. The fourth one suggests alterity: identity is not only the quality of sameness, but also the quality of difference. Alterity is thus immanent to identity, which explains the dialectical relationship between the two, or the impossibility of one without the other. Because you are not me, you and I can't be the same unless we are different from someone else.

Posted by eklanche at June 29, 2006 03:08 PM


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