« PreviousContinue »
N OW, that we may become more skilful in guard
IV ing ourselves and others against the dangers of miitake which may arise from equivocal words, it may not be amiss to conclude this chapter with a short account of the various ways or means whereby a word changes its fignification, or acquires any new sense, and thus becomes equivocal, especially if it keeps its old sense also.
1. Mere chance sometimes gives the same word different senses; as the word light signifies a body. that is not heavy; and it also signifies the effect of sun-beams, or the medium whereby, we see objects : this is merely accidental, for there seems to be no connection between these two senses, nor any reason for them.
2. Error and mistake is another occasion of giving various senses to the same word; as when different perfons read the names of priest, bifhop, church, easter, &c. in the New Testament, they aifix different ideas to them, for want of acquaintance with the true meaning of the facred writer, though it must be confessed, these various senses, which might arise at first from honeft mistake, may be culpably supported and propagated by interest, ambition, prejudice, and a party-spirit on any side.
3. Time and custom alters the meaning of words. Knave heretofore signified a diligent servant (Gnavus;) and a villain was a nearer tenant to the lord of the manor (Villicus;) but now both these words carry an idea of wickedness and reproach to them. A ballad once signified a folemn and sacred song, as well as one that is trivial, when Solomon's Song was called the ballad of ballads; but now it is applied to nothing but trifling verse, or comical subjects.
4. Words change their sense by figures and meta
phors, which are derived from some real anology or resemblance betweeen several things; as when wings and flight are applied to riches, it signifies only, that the owner may as easily lose them, as he would lofe a bird who flew away with wings.
And I think, under this head, we may rank those words, which signify different ideas, by a sort of an unaccountable far-fetcht analogy, or distant resemblance that fancy has introduced between one thing and ano. ther; as when we say, the meat is green, when it is half-roasted: we speak of airing linen by the fire, when we mean drying or warming it: we call for round coals for the chimney, when we mean large square ones : and we talk of the wing of a rabbit when we mean the fore-leg: the true reason of these appellations we leave to the critics.
5. Words also change their sense by the special occasion of using them, the peculiar manner of pronounciation, the sound of the voice, the motion of the face, or gestures of the body; so when an angry master says to his servant, it is bravely done, or you are a fine gentleman, he means just the contrary ; namely, it is very ill done ; you are a forry fellow : it is one way of giving a severe reproach, for the words are spoken by way of sarcasm or irony.
6. Words are applied to various senses, by new ideas appearing or arising faster than new words are framed. So when gun-powder was found out, the word powder, which before signifred only dust, was made then to signify that mixture or composition of nitre, charcoal, EC. And the name canon, which before signified a law, or a rule, is now also given to a great gun, which gives laws to nations. So foot-boys, who had frequently the common name of Jack given them, were kept to turn the spit, or to pull of their master's boots ; but when instruments were invented for both these fervices, they were both called jacks, though one was of iron, the other of wood, and very different in their form.
7. Words alter their fignifications according to the ideas of the various persons, fects, or parties who use them, as we have hinted before ; so when a papist uses the word heretics, he generally means the protestants ;
when a protestant uses the word, he means any persons who were wilfully (and perhaps contentiously) obfti. nate in fundamental errors. When a Jew speaks of the true religion, he means the institution of Moses ; when a Turk mentions it, he intends the doctrine of Mahomet : but when a Christian makes use of it, he designs to signify Christianity, or the truths and prea cepts of the gospel.
8. Words have different fignifications according to the book, writing, or discourse in which they stand. So in a treatise of anatomy, a foot fignifies that member in the body of man: But in a book of geometry or mensuration, it fignifies twelve inches.
If I had' room to exemplify most of these particulars in one fingle word, I know not where to chuse a fitter than the word found, which seems (as it were) by chance, to signify three diftinct ideas, (viz. ) healthy (from fanus) as a found body; noise, (from fonus) as a Ihrill sound : and to found the fea (perhaps from the French fonde, a probe, or an instrument to find the depth of water.) From these three, which I may call original senses, various derivative senfes arise ; as found Ncep, sound lungs, found wind and limb, a found keart, a found mind, found doctrine, a sound divine, found reason, a found cask, found timber, a sound reproof, to beat one foundly, to found one's meaning, or inclination, and a sound or narrow fea ; turn all these into Latin, and the variety will appear plain.
I confess, some few of these which I have mention. ed as the different springs of equivocal words, may be reduced in fome cases to the same original : but it must also be granted, that there may be other ways besides these whereby a word comes to extend its fignification, to include various ideas, and become equivocal. And though it is the businefs of a grammarian to pursue these remarks with more variety and particularity, yet it is also the work of a logician to give notice of these things, lest darkness, confufion and perplexity be brought into our conceptions by the means of words, and thence our judgments and reasonings become erroneous.
GENERAL DIRECTIONS RELATING TO OUR IDEAS..
Direction 1. TURNISH yourselves with a rich va
r riety of ideas; acquaint yourselves with things ancient and modern; things natural, civil and religious ; things domestic and national; things of your native land, and of foreign countries; things prefent, past and future; and above all, be well acquainted with God and yourselves ; learn animal nature, and the workings of your own fpirits.
Such a general acquaintance with things will be of very great advantage. ?
The firft benefit of it is this; it will assist the use of Teafon in all its following operations ; it will teach you to judge of things aright, to argue justly, and methodise your thoughts with accuracy. When you shall find Leveral things a-kin to each other, and several different from each other, agreeing in some part of their idea, and disagreeing in other parts, you will range your ideas in better order, you will be more easily led into a diftinct knowledge of things, and will obtain a rich ftore of proper thoughts and arguments upon all occasions.
You will tell me perhaps, that you design the study of the law or divinity; and what good can natural philofophy or mathematics do you, or any other fcience, not directly subordinate to your chief design? but let it be considered, that all sciences have a fort of mutual connection; and knowledge of all kinds fit the mind to reason and judge better concerning any particular subject. I have known a judge upon the bench betray his ignorance, and appear a little confused in his sentiments about a case of suspected mur. der brought before him, for want of some acquainte ance with animal nature and philosophy.
Another benefit of it is this : such a large and general acquaintance with things will secure you from perpetual admirations and surprizes, and guard you against that weakness of ignorant persons, who have
never seen any thing beyond the confines of their own dwelling, and therefore they wonder at almost every thing they see ; every thing beyond the smoke of their own chimney, and reach of their own windows, is new and strange to them.
A third benefit of such an universal acquaintance with things, is this ; it will keep you from being too positive and dogmatical, from an excess of credulity and unbelief, that is, a readiness to believe, or to deny every thing at first hearing; when you shall have of. ten seen, that strange and uncommon things, which often seemed incredible, are found to be true; and things very commonly received have been found false.
The way of attaining such an extensive treasure of ideas, is, with diligence to apply yourself to read the best books, converse with the most knowing and the wisest of men, and endeavour to improve by every person in whose company you are ; suffer no hour te pass away in a lazy idleness, and impertinent.chattering or useless trifles : vilit other cities and countries, when you have seen your own, under the care of one who can teach you to profit by travelling, and to make wise observations ; indulge a little curiosity in seeing the wonders of art and nature ; search into things yourselves, as well as learn them from others : be acquainted with men as well as books; learn all things as much as you can at first hand ; and let as many of your ideas as possible be the representations of things, and not merely the representations of other men's ideas : thus your soul, like some noble building shall be richly furnished with original paintings, and not with mere copies.
Direct. II. Use the most proper methods to retain that treasure of ideas which you have acquired; for the mind is ready to let many of them flip, unless some pains and labour be taken to fix them upon the memory.
And more especially let those ideas be laid up and preserved with the greatest care, which are most directe ly suited, either to your eternal welfare as a Chriftian, or to your particular station and profession in this life; for though the former rule recommends an universal acquaintance with things, yet it is but a more general