Talk:unsayable

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The following discussion has been moved from Wiktionary:Requests for cleanup.

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Unspeakable that such a thing could be entered, not listed as an error. --Connel MacKenzie 23:47, 8 September 2007 (UTC)

Note this is not an RFV - rather a request for SOME way to list the blasphemy. Yes, I am well aware that WT:CFI is broken beyond repair...but there has to be some way this can be tagged as an illiteracy without the usual suspects going ballistic. --Connel MacKenzie 00:43, 9 September 2007 (UTC)
This term is usually used as a noun; this can be explained as a substantive use of the adjective (since nearly all English adjectives can be used substantively), but in this case it's so pervasive that I think we should have a "noun" header. —RuakhTALK 02:20, 9 September 2007 (UTC)
On second thought, never mind; you can distinguish nouns from substantive adjectives in various ways, and this seems to be a substantive adjective: "the apparently unsayable", not *"the apparent unsayable". —RuakhTALK 15:39, 9 September 2007 (UTC)
"Unsayable" is neither blasphemy nor an illiteracy. It is perhaps better known to readers of philosophy than some others, but it is a perfectly valid English word. Rodasmith has now added quotations from very reputable sources to the article and I have added verified references citing other dictionaries. As for POS, I'm more comfortable classifying it as an adjective, although I agree with Ruakh that it is often (although I'm not so sure about "usually") used substantively, especially in the expression "say the unsayable." -- WikiPedant 05:07, 9 September 2007 (UTC)
I'm not sure how I missed your mention of that expression previously. The expression is "speak the unspeakable" over here. --Connel MacKenzie 03:00, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
With the senses properly split up the senses (thanks, WikiPedant), I was able to add what I think Connel hopes to see in this entry, i.e. tags that indicate a limited use of the word. Does it seem right, now, Connel? Rod (A. Smith) 18:07, 9 September 2007 (UTC)
The references cited each give a single sense. I don't agree that our two senses should be worded in a way that makes them distinct, as they (by the citations) aren't. The synonyms, likewise, list "unspeakable" for only one sense, yet the first citation of the "other sense" uses it synonymously. Where a marked difference in connotation exists, with one word that is very common, while the other is obscure, something should indicate #1) the common form (unspeakable,) #2) how this rare form differs from the common form. Trying to use "unsayable" in normal context, I maintain, is an illiteracy. Looking at http://news.google.com/news?q=unspeakable&scoring=d&num=100 and http://news.google.com/news?q=unsayable&scoring=d&num=100 it seems apparent that this is yet-another-pondian variant. (A couple odd US quotes in the US for the latter, presumably from visitors. Likewise, a handful of UK quotes for the normal word. CW countries split evenly between them?) Even if one were somehow to ignore the regional issue (as it would be understood in a poetry context in the US,) it would be quite silly to ignore the order-of-magnitude preference for the common form. [1] vs. [2]. --Connel MacKenzie 06:05, 21 September 2007 (UTC)
I don't know how you are reading the quotations, but they certainly don't seem to give the same sense to me. The first series of quotations (e.g. “...there are limitations on what we can say—we must always attempt to say the unsayable”) use unsayable to describe something that nobody can say (everyone is incapable of saying), e.g. due to logical limitations or those of would-be speakers. The last quote—the one associated with the second definition (i.e. “He was sacked, rather, for, saying the unsayable: for telling the truth.”)—describe something that nobody may say (everyone is prohibited from saying), e.g. due to social pressures. Which sense do you seem to think is the one used with those quotations? Rod (A. Smith) 08:21, 21 September 2007 (UTC)
I agree with Connel MacKenzie that "unspeakable" is not a suitable synonym for only one of the senses, since (among philosophers, at least) it has the same double sense as "unsayable." I'm going to modify the entry so that "unspeakable" shows as a synonym for both senses. But I agree with Rodasmith that two distinct senses of "unsayable" clearly do exist in usage, and are readily documentable with quotations, so the entry is correct to distinguish them. Connel MacKenzie is correct that other dictionaries do not show the 2 senses (although the Am. Heritage defn provided at Dictionary.com gets close), but that is just one more point on which Wiktionary is doing a better job than the competition. -- WikiPedant 14:24, 21 September 2007 (UTC)
To WikiPedant and Rod, it is misleading not to combine those two senses (that are not distinct) into a single, broader sense. I do not understand the mentality of misleading our readers by suggesting that the minute distinctions aren't in fact, tremendously intertwined...to the point of being only a single sense. Other dictionaries list a single sense because they have paid professionals writing their definitions, who easily can see when combining redundant senses will convey the total meaning of the word better. The hard part of writing a definition, always, is to keep it brief and succinct enough, yet still be complete. Pointlessly splitting senses into not-really-distinct sub-senses doesn't do that; it just gives our readers more cruft to sift through. But I admit, splitting is the easier (lazier, IMO) way.
As to the addition of just a synonym, WikiPedant, I think you missed the central issue for the entire cleanup request here. The definitions themselves (well, the single definition) should clearly show that there is a preference for "unspeakable." (Confer the links given above.) The definition should then clarify what circumstances are appropriate for "unsayable" and how it ("unsayable") casts different shades of meaning. You know, genus proximum, differentiam specificam; classify then differentiate. If you aren't going to explain that much, then <joking>the entry should just say # Unspeakably rare variant of unspeakable. </joking> :-)   --Connel MacKenzie 02:56, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
Connel, do you seriously think we should create a broad definition with specific sub-definitions? (unindenting)

If we follow what you appear to be suggesting, it would look like this:

  1. not able or allowed to be said
    1. (philosophy, poetry) Not capable of being said.
      [...]
      • 1938, G. E. Moore, Ethics, University of Chicago Press, page 215:
        Nonetheless, in some unsayable way, value sentences are about values and reflect the structure of values.
      [...]
    2. (rare) Not allowed or not fit to be said.
      • 2007, "Talking points: Racism and the cult of knee-jerk outrage," The Week, iss. 605, 17 March, p. 20,
      He was sacked, rather, for, saying the unsayable: for telling the truth.

None of our style guides seem to recommend sub-senses, so I don't understand why you are suddenly advocating that format. Rod (A. Smith) 17:58, 22 September 2007 (UTC)

I wasn't advocating that format; I was suggesting the two definitions be reworded into one broader definition. Discussing this particular entry on IRC, it was suggested that we require all Wiktionarians to read w:Definition and related articles before being allowed to edit.  :-)   Your usage note does address my original complaint (thank you.) --Connel MacKenzie 23:12, 22 September 2007 (UTC)
In response to points made and reiterated in a number of postings above, the only significant differences I see between "unsayable" and "unspeakable" are (1) that "unsayable" is less commonly used and (2) that "unspeakable" has the extra sense of "extremely bad" (many dictionaries give 3 senses for "unspeakable"). I do not see any substantive differences between the 2 senses of "unsayable" given in the Wiktionary entry and the 2 matching senses of "unspeakable," recognized by most dictionaries, so no comparative classificatory exposition is appropriate. Further, I am unconvinced that the second sense of "unsayable" is the extreme rarity or the un-Americanism which Connel MacKenzie believes it to be. In support of this point, I have added 2 more quotations for the 2nd sense, one from the NY Times and the other from Time magazine.
And, as for Connel MacKenzie's gratuitious embedded comment above (i.e, <!--Please Lord, tell me they have heard that before...somewhere, but just forgot.-->), I shall refrain from suggesting that it sounds to me like the sort of thing a smart aleck making a personal attack would write. -- WikiPedant 05:17, 23 September 2007 (UTC)
Your specious omission of addressing the links (evidence, counter to my expectations) that I provided above, that show this term to be undeniably specific to the UK (despite an errant NYT quote) is curious. Also, are you suggesting that I am making a personal attack against all contributors (myself included?) Yes, the comment wrapped in "<joking>" was snarky, but please.
Yes, Wiktionary's criteria is broken. Thank you for providing quotations that illustrate the point admirably. Yes, I still disagree that the second "sub-sense" is, in fact, a distinct "sub-sense" at all. If the first sense were worded properly, it would encompass both aspects. Instead, someone has reworded it to emphasize a distinction that does not really exist (neither for the writer nor the reader.) Without exposition, neither "sub-sense" can be inferred. And yes, I am using the term "sub-sense" loosely, in the hope that Rod won't detect any ambiguity, this time. --Connel MacKenzie 15:12, 23 September 2007 (UTC)
One further point: you mention a fallacy above: You say "many dictionaries" but alas, I can't tell if you are being intentionally misleading because of some perceived hostility, or are just mistaken. Dictionary.com, indeed lists two senses, not three, while Cambridge lists zero {{notaword}}, Webster's 1913 lists zero {{notaword}}, Wordnet lists zero {{notaword}}, M-w.com lists one, Encarta lists one and even the COED lists only one. "Many" = one? By that logic, we should add erroneous "second senses" whenever any dictionary anywhere else has an error. --Connel MacKenzie 15:59, 23 September 2007 (UTC)
Connel, might I suggest that you read comments carefully before lambasting them? WikiPedant's only use of the phrase "many dictionaries" was in mentioning how many senses they give for unspeakable, not for unsayable. I cannot believe that you're interpreting his comment differently from how I do; rather, you simply didn't read it carefully enough. (It wouldn't have been a big deal, except that your comment was unjustly mean. So I guess what I'm saying is, either read carefully, or restrain yourself.) This is exactly the sort of thing that causes needless strife. —RuakhTALK 19:11, 23 September 2007 (UTC)
And your incorrect butting in helps? He was making accusations and specious arguments, ignoring what Wiktionary, Wikipedia and real dictionaries say on the topic. So you, in your typical fashion, irrationally exonerate anyone in opposition to me, no matter how petty the topic is? I think you are the one adding needless strife here. WikiPedant's irrational defense of his POV (after shown to be wrong on several levels,) combined with his accusations is increasingly suspicious.
Note also that he went ahead and damaged the entry, removing Rod's "Usage notes" section. Any good intentions to suspect in that action? Any? --Connel MacKenzie 07:43, 24 September 2007 (UTC)
As for WikiPedant, no, his specious arguments have no merit. Changing the subject, suddenly criticizing the correct word-form is entirely beside the point. His assertion is still about what the entry unsayable and its 'usage notes' section should say. (Did you misread what he wrote?) Looking to what most other dictionaries say, we could say that unsayable is not a word in English. Looking at usage, we can instead perhaps say it is a rare poetic use, an uncommon British term, or a rare error. His irrational opposition to reasonable tags smacks of gaming the system and remains inexplicable. He again, seems to be gaming the system when choosing bizarre statistical aberrations (NYT & Time) and immediately stuffing them into the entry, as if they somehow represent typical use. If there were any way I could imagine it was a casual error on his part, I would.
You should be able to see pretty clearly in the above, how he turned friendly banter into some kind of accusation-fest. Your immediate support of that, Ruakh, can be explained, precisely how? --Connel MacKenzie 06:31, 24 September 2007 (UTC)
Look, sorry, I didn't mean for my comment to be "butting in". I addressed one specific part of your comment that was seriously flawed; I did not criticize the rest of your comment, and I did not say anything about WikiPedant's comment except as it bore on the one part of your comment whose serious flaws I was pointing out. I have a good deal of faith in WikiPedant, and rather suspect that everything he did was eminently reasonable; but I look before I leap, and as I have not looked into all of it, I am not leaping to its defense. (Regarding your claim that "he turned friendly banter into some kind of accusation-fest", I can only say that it takes two to tango. You included an HTML comment that you didn't intend personally; he took it personally and overreacted a bit, implying it was a personal attack; you then overreacted in turn, and took his implication as carte blanche to stop assuming good faith on his part. Neither of you handled this very well, but I'm not in a position to judge; G-d only knows how many times I myself have overreacted in online discussions-cum-arguments. The beauty of a community like this is that we can all do our best to learn from our mistakes, and to help each other learn from them as well.) —RuakhTALK 21:15, 24 September 2007 (UTC)