Friday, March 18, 2011

In Praise Of Ratiocination

Or rather in praise of the English language.


At this stage of my life I thought I had a pretty good grasp on English, well enough to write a blog anyway, which keeps me aware that  readers expect a certain standard of expression. However, from time to time I find a word which disabuses me of any literary pretensions and sends me scurrying for the dictionary-or rather these days for Google.


Such a word is "ratiocinative". What an attractive, strange looking, genuinely odd word. It gives no clue as to meaning by its structure at first glance (unless one was versed in dead languages presumably) nor a clue to its pronunciation. Unfortunately the sentence I found it in gave no real clue either, so it was off to Merriam Webster on-line for assistance.


Here's what MW advises (apart from the not helpful statement "Rhymes with Ratiocination")


DEFINITION OF RATIOCINATION

Definition of RATIOCINATION

1
: the process of exact thinking : reasoning
2
: a reasoned train of thought

Examples of RATIOCINATION; "As an expert in ratiocination the detective Sherlock Holmes has few rivals."

With that definition the sentence I found the word in (and the helpful pronunciation sound-bite-which was different to what I expected) starts to make sense-and in fact came to life.
I was reading 'The Life Of John Stuart Mill' and read (but could not understand) this sentence, which was part of his description of his formative years:
"Even in the narrowest of my then associates, they being older men, their ratiocinative and nicely concatenated dreams were at some point or other, and in some degree or other, corrected and limited by their experience of actual realities, whilst I, a schoolboy fresh from logic school, had never conversed with reality."
So Mill is saying that his older colleagues whose early, falsely  confident,"reasoned"  and concatenated (linked together in a chain) thought processes had been tempered by reality as they matured, and were not as logical as they once considered them. Conversely, because he was wet behind the ears so speak, he had no measure of the correctness or not of his "reasoned" world views.
It is a pleasure and a delight to work in, and discover afresh, the English language, which must be considered a treasure of mankind and, as ancient as it is for those who labor in its field, it is still "new each day."


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