It's all meaningless

This tweet from BBC See Hear raises the issue of offence being taken and/or intended - which overlaps with my frustration of when people ask “what is the sign for [x]?”

I don’t think words - or signs - have meaning. What they have is a probability of what the user of that word or sign intended it to represent; and that probability distribution illustrates a range of meanings that the receiver might possibly infer. The intended meaning and the perceived meaning can be quite different depending on the probability distribution. Some words have a narrow distribution with a single likely intended and perceived meaning; “Chihuahua” might be one of those. Others have much broader distributions with many potential intended and perceived meanings; perhaps like “benefit”.

These probabilities are not only to do with meaning, but also offense (and probably a multitude of other things too). Both meaning and offence are variably intended - to larger or lesser extents - by the producer of the word and taken - in whatever way - by the receiver. I don’t want to list examples, but “black” would be one I think.

It is not that particular words or signs are offensive, but that they might be perceived as such. You may not know what will be considered offensive by the receiver, and the best you can be expected to do is take an educated guess.

Is “she” offensive? Might it be?

It is not what it means, but what you mean and what they may infer.

Jim Cromwell