Arguing Syntax

Allow me, gently, to disagree with you :slightly_smiling_face:.

Also I’d like to challenge some of the terminology here.
I’ll just throw out some dichotomies (or whatever they are)

  • Writer vs Author
  • Illustrator vs Artist
  • Singer vs Musician

In my mind there’s a pattern here for each of these pairs. I hope you get a sense of that which is not written down, but which appears when you ponder why the one thing is not the same as the other.

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These terms are basically interchangeable, but do carry a bit of implication toward singular creation vs contribution - spec versus “for hire” and it’s all based on context:

An “author” conceives of a story and writes it, where you wouldn’t really call someone who works in the writing room on a long-running TV series “an author” of Everybody Loves Raymond; they’re “a writer” on the show. Or if I contribute to my company’s technical manual, I’m not the author. I could be a “contributing author” or one of a group of writers. An author might work “as a writer for hire.”

An “artist” is anyone who makes art; in terms of graphical media they’re creating a work of art based on their own design. An “illustrator” might be creating art that illustrates a technical manual or character images based on someone else’s specifications or illustrating what bacteria realistically look like for a technical work. Someone can be an “artist who works as an illustrator”.

A “singer” is a type of musician, just like a bard is a role in an adventuring party where everyone makes a contribution. A bassist or a piano player is also a musician. The more appropriate pair might be “Composer vs Vocalist/Singer” - a singer might (but doesn’t necessarily need to) compose their own material (like Adele or Taylor Swift); a vocalist implies a hired singer for a performance or recording. But these are not hard and fast - you can say “backup singers” or “backup vocalists” who are performing a gig. They might be hired to sing music that is already written, or some might even be brought in to improvise backups based on their skill. (The vocalist on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky” was brought in and asked to improvise over the music and nailed it in - I believe two takes and if I recall was like “Oh, you’re using that one, that wasn’t rehearsal?” She didn’t compose the music, she just provided vocal skill and contributed to a performance.) A singer might work as a backup vocalist.

Again, this is all flexible and I am also splitting hairs and many of these terms can be interchangeable. If you write words, you’re a writer. If you write your own words, you’re also an author. If you’re an actor you likely say someone else’s words on-stage; if you’re a stand-up comedian you might also be an actor but are performing your own material on-stage.


I can’t see how. No two words mean the same thing. In fact it’s the opposite.

The English language exhibits Polysemy to a very high degree. One single word can have many meanings.

That’s at the grammatical level. We haven’t even started with social context, illocutionary force, etc.

Yes, you don’t have exact parity in meaning.

With that said, folks interchange synonyms on a regular basis because they don’t need exact parity in meaning.

If he meant what he said literally, he wouldn’t have included the qualifier, “basically.”


OK, but if you work with words (and I assume that’s what we are here to do), then to reduce any subtlety in a text until the concepts in it basically equate to tautologies is perhaps to miss the intent of the author.

That’s the risk inherent in all communication.

Don’t interchange these words if you prefer, or do interchange them. Either way, that’s each individual author’s prerogative.


Please refrain from arguing your points with syntactical gymnastics. If you are told by an author what their words mean, take that at face value.

It’s one thing to discuss and hash out the syntax of your written prose - that is indeed part of what we do here, but slip-sliding your argument on the back-end so you will always somehow be “correct” based on fuzzy syntax is not constructive discussion here.

People mean stuff and use various words to get that across. It is in no way a slight to call an author a writer or a singer a musician. You’re welcome to not agree, but it’s essentially “argument for the sake of argument” which starts to rub against the Code of Conduct. Sea-lioning is trolling.


I’m sorry, Hanon. You spent more time writing your reply than you did reading my original post. That’s on you, there’s nothing I can do about that.

That depends on the tautologies one reduces to, doesn’t it? If I interpret one way and use the semantically correct synonyms that agree with my own interpretation, then my only sin would be misunderstanding the intent of the author and not erasing the subtleties of the authors own words.

The latter would occur anyway (probably) even if I use exact quotes from the author, if I am adept enough to provide sufficient context to my own different interpretation. Different from the author’s that is.

Then there is the The Death of the Author.


Thank you for flying your colors.

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I recognise that things became heated a moment ago. I’m not sure why. I’m going to press on with this thread though, and hope everyone recognises my best intentions.

So, in a dramatic fashion , I will ask a question. Then in less than a minute, I will pounce with my answer.

Q: What is Literature?

A: Action at a distance.

As if we do not use a language that is (in)famous for redundancy of vocabulary? The intent of the author is usually built upon a lot of preceding context, and does not typically hinge on a single word.

Especially in English.

While you got the information across, someone is going to find this thread in the future and wonder why it was being treated as live-chat on per-minute timescales.

EDIT: That was an off-topic addition, but I thought it was worth writing. Particularly for future explorers here.


FWIW, I think things got a little heated because of a conversational style mismatch? A couple times in this (and the predecessor) thread, you’ve written intentionally-obscure stuff and then responded to attempts to engage by in effect saying “no, you haven’t understood me, try again” rather than elaborating on your point.

This is a conversational style that can lead to deeper intellectual engagement, but it’s also one that generally presupposes a power dynamic – like, this is the style an instructor uses with a student – and also requires more effort of the reader/interlocutor, which can feel like an imposition if it feels like it’s not reciprocal. So in a more open space like an Internet forum, I suspect it’s likely to lead to friction, or at least more likely to do so than it would in other contexts.

Anyway, sorry for the slightly off-topic note – and I don’t mean to police the way folks are expressing themselves by any means! Just thought spelling out why I think there was some crosstalk might help keep things on stable footing moving forward.


Yeah, and Mike, I think I should acknowledge that our last interaction seemed to end in way that signalled some distance between us. That’s not at all what I was seeking. It doesn’t need me to say that you are one of the most agreeable guys on this forum.

Perhaps it might help if I explained what represents to me. My impression is that it’s a place where people are exploring the integration of literature and technology. There are people here who have been writing IF for decades. Also there are educators, philosophers, and all sorts of innovators.

This is a very unusual community, and not at all representative of the people I know IRL. I come here for intellectual stimulus. Sometimes when I sniff an interesting topic, I like to wade in.

I’m not trying to be combative. I do feel there are people here who have a like mind to mine, and I simply want to bang out ideas with them.


I appreciate you saying that, and explaining your approach – it totally makes sense I think! Just sometimes there’s a mismatch of expectations; speaking personally, with Spring Thing playing and reviewing going on and at a busy time at work, I’m just dipping into the forums quickly here and there and my brain isn’t as primed for deep engagement as it sometimes is.


I can think of two different meanings of this phrase, one physical and the other casual. I find it unlikely that you wish to engage in discussing quantum entanglement here, so I choose to interpret your words in a casually literal way.

In that regard, I agree that literature is action at a distance, but so are many other activities which can hardly be called literature. That characterization is lacking specificity. Saying that literature is words offers more insight than literature is action at a distance, but it is quite nebulous as well.

That being said, the action (not the distance) aspect of your answer is critically important, and has been argued to death by critics about literature (and all fine arts really). The question is: Does literature need a reader as well as an author (to be called literature)? What do you think?


This can be reduced to the “if a tree falls in the woods” paradox. :expressionless:


I’m getting ‘AI CHAT’ vibes here…



Let me put it this way, Mr. Fog. The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.