German Words

Today I want to restart the series of German words that are theoretical or are applicable to intellectual history. As human beings, we think in words, so of course, it is not to hard to see how language is, hopefully without too much exaggeration, ‘everything.’ The German language is ‘over built’ in that it can be accused of over-defining ideas, emotions, notions, even whimsy into heavy-duty concepts (but this may be my slang-y Washingtonian up-bring and anglo-saxon academic training kicking in). Anyway.

Today’s word is Gegenbegriffe(geh-gen-be-griff (so I guess how it would be these letters would be pronounced in english, now that I look at it). It means ‘polar opposites.’

Gegenbegriffe is a useful tool in analyzing political ideas or vocabularies. But it can work will in any sort of discourse or line of argument. It reminds me of the idea of the “counter-factual” in that, by testing alternative ways of thinking about the original idea, you gain a different perspective about it. Let’s say you are investigating the conventions and vocabulary of political legitimation (so for example: pot should be legal because that’s what the drug dealers would want), then to use the idea of Gegenbegriffe you would also study the connections and vocabulary of political illegitimation (pot should be illegal because it turns you into a hippy). Already, we’ve learned a little something about both the arguments, and the value systems being deployed to back up the arguments.

As Heidegger and Wittgenstein both figured out; language is a weapon and a tool.

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