Wittgenstein argues that we shouldn't understand language by piecing together the dictionary meaning of each individual word in a sentence, but rather that language should be understood in context as a move in a language game.

Consider the phrase, "You're the most beautiful girl in the world". Many rationalists might shy away from such a statement, deeming it statistically improbable. However, while this strict adherence to truth is commendable, I honestly feel it is misguided.

It's honestly kind of absurd to expect your words to be taken literally in these kinds of circumstances. The recipient of such a compliment will almost certainly understand it as hyperbole intended to express fondness and desire, rather than as a literal factual assertion. Further, by invoking a phrase that plays a certain role in movies, books, etc. you're making a bid to follow certain cultural scripts[1]. The girl almost certainly knows this intuitively, regardless of whether or not she could articulate it precisely.

Of course, one should avoid making such statements if they believe them to be fundamentally false. However, ethical communication in these circumstance isn't about the literal truth of the words but whether they are expressed sincerely and whether the speaker genuinely intends to uphold the unspoken commitments associated with such cultural conventions.

  1. ^

    I wouldn't be able to comprehensively identify all the aspects of the scripts invoked, but I suspect that at least part of this is a bid to roleplay certain idealized cultural narratives. It might sounds like I'm trivialised this, ie. that I'm saying it's all pretend, but there's a sense in which this roleplay brings reality closer to these narratives even if they can never be fully realized.

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Americans don't know how much they had to compromise in this video by using shish-kebabs instead of what a new zealander would really mean when someone at a party says "do you want to get a kebab with me", which are instead like, the turkish version of burritos, instead of mince, beans and cheese; turkish meat, hummus, veges and wider choice of sauces. They're a fixture of nightlife and tend to be open late.


On reflection, it must have played out more than once that a kiwi lad, in a foreign country, drunk, has asked a girl if she wants to get a kebab. The girl thinks he means shish-kebab but says yes enthusiastically because she likes him and assumes he wouldn't ask that unless it was an abnormally good shish-kebab. The kiwi realizes too late that there are no kebabs in america, but they end up going ahead and getting shish-kebabs out of a combination of face-saving, and an infatuation-related coordination problem: The girl now truly wants a shish-kebab, it is too late to redirect the desires of the group.

So that detail might have just been inspired by a true story.


I am so here for this comment section

Would be very curious to know why people are downvoting this post.

Is it:
a) Too obvious
b) Too pretentious
c) Poorly written
d) Unsophisticated analysis
e) Promoting dishonesty

Or maybe something else.

I didn't, but I often want to downvote articles that seem to be lecturing a group who wouldn't read or be changed by the article. I know a lot of idiots will upvote such articles out of a belief that by doing so they are helping or attacking that group. On reddit, it often felt like that is the main reason people upvote things, to engage indirectly with others, and it kills the sub, clogging it with posts that the people who visit the sub are not themselves getting anything from.

If you engaged with the target group successfully, they would upvote the post themselves, so a person should generally never upvote on others' behalf, because they don't actually know what would work for them.

Unfortunately, the whole anonymous voting thing makes it impossible to properly address voting norm issues like this. So either I address it improperly by making deep guesses about why people are voting, in this way (no, don't enjoy) or I prepare to depose lesswrong.com with a better system (that's what I'm doing)

Too obvious imo, though I didn't downnvote. This also might not be an actual rationalist failure mode; in my experience at least, rationalists have about the same intuition all the other humans have about when something should be taken literally or not.

As for why the comment section has gone berserk, no idea, but it's hilarious and we can all use some fun.

I'd say that it doesn't carve reality at the same places as my understanding. I neither upvoted nor downvoted the post, but had to consciously remember that I have that option at all.

I think that language usage can be represented as vector, in basis of two modes:

  1. "The Fiat": words really have meanings, and goal of communication is to transmit information (including requests, promises, etc!),
  2. "Non-Fiat": you simply attempt to say a phrase that makes other people do something that furthers your goal. Like identifying with a social group (see Belief as Attire) or non-genuine promises.

(Note 1: if someone asked me what mode I commonly use, I would think. Think hard.)

(Note 2: I've found a whole tag about motivations which produce words - https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/simulacrum-levels! Had lost it for certain time before writing this comment.)

In life, I try to communicate less hyperboles and replace them with non-verbal signs, which do not carry implication of either "the most beautiful" or "more beautiful than everyone around".

Could you say more, especially about "non-verbal signs"? I can guess what you're gesturing out, but I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

Testing status: I've only dated once, because I'm moving to other city to enter university.

The girl I have dated was quite pretty but not the most beautiful around. Luckily I learnt that she has read HP:MoR early so didn't even try to over-hyperbole and say that she was the most beautiful - both of us would understand that it's false - instead, I smiled at appropriate moments.

Another non-verbal sign is not to dismiss parts of dialogue. When my girlfriend suggested a few animes to watch, and I doubted I would like them, I still visibly wrote them down but avoided promising that I will actually watch them. (I ended up liking one and said so afterwards!)

I have quite specific perspective on talking, because I notice that I'm trying to understand others' perspective and internal beliefs structure when they don't understand something. Roughly once a month, someone of my classmates would ask a strange-looking question, and teacher would answer something similar but not the question (like "Why this approximation works?" - "There's how you do it..." - "I've understood how to calculate it, but why is it the answer?"), and afterwards I try to patch the underlying beliefs structure.

If it wouldn't have felt authentic, then it would have been the wrong choice to say it.

I actually upvoted, but mostly because it was a hook for comedy, because it's so common a trope (the surprise value of taking something literally).  If it weren't for that, I'd probably have just passed, rather than downvoting, but I find it pretty low-value overall.

Some mix of "obvious parts are obvious, non-obvious parts are some mix of pretentious and and suspect."  I'd actually enjoy a (somewhat) deeper exploration of your agreement or disagreement with the Wittgenstein framing of this phrase, and the value of invoking cultural tropes.  Personally, this isn't one I'm confident enough to use, but there are other hyperbolic ideas I use for emphasis or humor, and I generally agree that communication is multimodal and contextual, much more than objective semantic content. 

This is the best article in the world! Hyperbole is a lot of fun to play with especially when it dips into sarcasm a bit, but it can be hard to do that last part well in the company of folks who don't enjoy it precisely the same way.

I've definitely legitimately claimed things to people hyperbolically that were still maxing out my own emotional scales, which I think is a reasonable use too. Sometimes the person you're with is the most beautiful person in the locally visible universe within the last few minutes, and sometimes the article you're reading is the best one right now.

See also Alicorn's Expressive Vocabulary

This isn't that complicated. The halo effect is real and can go to extremes when romantic relationships are involved, and most people take their sense data at face value most of the time. The sentence is meant completely literally.

I suspect that many people who use such a phrase would endorse an interpretation such as "The most beautiful... to me."