My Adjective Test

posted Jun 25, 2005

If an adjective is in a statement, but the statement is just as true without the adjective, with its opposite, or with a generalization, then the statement fails my adjective test.


(Sorry for the political nature of that first one; I tried to come up with a non-political one, but equal-or-greater truth with the opposite mostly comes up with groups of people, which is political.)

Why is this important? A statement containing an adjective that fails this test contains it for one of two reasons: Weak thinking, or deliberate deception.

"Deliberate deception" is obvious; "weak thinking" may take a bit more explanation. The information value of a statement can be defined as the extent to which it is a "surprise"; being told something you already absolutely know is not informative, whereas being told something intricate that you had no idea about is extremely informative. (This is an informal definition, but it is drawn from one of the formal definitions used in computer science.)

One of the ways of being informative is to categorize things and apply statements to the various categories. Adjectives are such categories; simplified, the adjective "red" divides the world into the things that are red and the things that are not red.

When you make a statement with an adjective, you are implicitly claiming that the opposite is true of things that don't match the adjective. Mathematically, the statement "Green balls bounce" does not at all imply anything about non-green balls. In practice, it does imply to some degree that non-green balls do not bounce. What's the point of saying it otherwise?

A weak thinker can accept or state such a sentence and accept the implied negation without every thinking about it directly. Such a person may proudly run around and make statements such as the examples above, sometimes even if when pressed directly, they would agree the implication is false.

A deliberate deceiver is trying to get you to accept the implication on purpose.

If I linked you to this, it's because you used an adjective that fails this test. I don't know if you did it on purpose or not (though I have a good idea in most cases), but you should reconsider your statement. (This is generally off-topic and better as an off-site link.)


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