Semantic Math

I ran across a paper analyzing common expressions intended to convey fuzzy quantitative meaning. Although the prose is off-puttingly dense and the text filled with odd equations, the title conveys the gist of the study: "Bags of Talent, A Touch of Panic, and a Bit of Luck: The Case of Non-numerical Vague Quantifiers."

At first I wondered if the work was a hoax similar to the famous Sokal Affair, named after the NYU physicist who got a paper composed entirely of gibberish published in a postmodern journal. Not so this time. It’s a legitimate journal and an established Czech researcher whose field is vagueness, imprecision, and indeterminacy.

The work compares meaning across two languages: English and Czech. In both cases, the author argues that numeric vagueness is not generally a sign of a lack of a sound argument, but merely a cultural norm that will communicate meaning to most people. In addition, it posits that vague language often makes communication more informal and less tense, and adds vividness and expressiveness to human exchange.

As for me, I like mathematical precision in language. For instance, do you know what is signified by 10-15 bismols?

Femto-bismol,of course.

Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.

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