Thebastidge: Hurtful or Harmful?
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    Thursday, September 06, 2007

    Hurtful or Harmful?

    It seems to me there is a narrow but extremely deep philosophical chasm between the people who use these two terms...

    hurt·ful
    Function: adjective
    : causing injury, detriment, or suffering : DAMAGING

    harm·ful
    Function: adjective
    : of a kind likely to be damaging : INJURIOUS

    Superficially and technically, they are almost indistinguishable. It's more usage that points up the difference.

    I see "hurtful" used more often in conjunction with feelings, and in emotional arguments. Not necessarily that people using these terms don't argue rationally (sometimes), but that the topic of discussion seems to be emotion.

    It also seems to be more transitory. Feelings are hurt, self-esteem is harmed. One is longer-lasting and more significant than the other.

    On the other hand, I tend to use "harmful". I also tend to discuss things (politics, economics) in terms of objective, measurable damage, or at least in terms of trends even if specific measurement of an effect is difficult.

    'Suffering' is a lot more subjective than 'damaging'. 'Suffering' has been watered down a lot more by wide application and misuse (claiming victimhood for manipulative purposes.)

    I think I shall pay more attention to usage of these terms in the context of the political beliefs of the people using them.

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Another Bratcher said...

    Hmmm. Semantics are so increasingly important in a climate where communication is scrutinized to the level that it now is. Your post made me wonder at the unimaginable levels of cultural mis-interpretation due to dialectic semantics. They are big... even within our own language (english).

    I continually marvel at the fact that we, as Americans, have almost no safety check valves for the translations that we are given in the media of the things that are said by non-english speakers (recent radical islamic videos)other than learning the language for ourselves. Communication can be such a subtle form of control.

    10:36 PM  
    Blogger Larry said...

    For Arabic translations in particular, I rely on The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)

    They point out a lot of inconsistencies in public statements and reporting in one language versus another, and provide contrasting points of view on translations.

    I also like to read the DPRK's official newspaper (No-Dong Shinmun, the Labour Party Newspaper) in the original and the English translation so I can get the original flavour and compare it to how English-speakers will perceive it. I wish I was good enough in some other languages to do the same.

    3:45 AM  

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