Thursday, October 14, 2010

Empty Words

In arguments there are certain words that should be avoided, because they add no weight to your argument at all. Just like a grammar teacher would read your paper and utter the horrible phrase “This is fluff; get rid of it” there are certain words you can throw about in an argument that are the Debate equivalent of “fluff.”

Some of the words in question would be Prude, Legalist, Religious, Open-minded and Close-minded. While we all have a general definition of what these words mean, the personal opinion of each person of what amount of a characteristic makes a person such a word is different. For example, I may think a person is a prude if the mention of making babies seems an offensive line of conversation, whereas someone would think me a prude for not wanting to see a naked ballerina dancing around in some weird role as Caliban from The Tempest (yes, this actually happened to me). Which definition is right and which is wrong? The answer is that neither is right nor wrong, and since there can be no right or wrong it seems a pointless word to use in an argument.

The reason to avoid such terms in arguments is because they are generally used to try and give credence to or take credence away from one’s argument, while actually adding no weight to the argument at all. For example, someone might say “Well, Hollie is legalist and close-minded, so just ignore everything she says.” The issue with that statement is that you have not disproved any sort of argument I might have been trying to make. I may be legalist according to John Doe, but what does that have to do with the argument at hand? If the argument is about whether abortion is right or wrong, for example, and I say it is wrong because a baby has a right to life as well, what purpose does calling me legalistic serve? My argument is not about legalism. I presented my point of view, and the logical answer would be to refute that argument with another point of view (perhaps a claim that babies unborn are not human, and thus have no right to choice, but are instead fetuses with no rights of their own?). Upon reading that I am a “legalist and close-minded” people might feel inclined to disregard anything I have to say, though. That serves a major disservice to my arguments, which should not be affected by whether John Doe thinks I’m a close-minded legalist or not. The strength of an argument is not determined by my personal character. It is determined by the logic of my statements, and the persuasiveness of my words.

Basically, if a word used in an argument does not refute a point, but instead tries to qualify or disqualify an arguer by pointing out an aspect of their character, it should be avoided. It is bordering on ad hominem to use such words, and no one wants to partake in that form of arguing, now do they? Of course, this does not mean any word should steadfastly be avoided forever and for always. Simply avoid it when trying to make a sound argument.

If any words come to mind that you would like to add to my list of “Empty Words,” by all means feel free to share them with me.

This was a rambling written at 12:45 in the morning, so do forgive any part of the text that is confusing. I was so excited by the thoughts pouring into my brain that I simply had to type them out before they disappeared from my sleepy brain. Sure I could have reexamined my text at a later time, but I rather abhor editing. It’s boring, and I do enough of that in school.