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Axioms and Reaxioms

Reaxioms, please

by Everett Wilson
October 20, 2011

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Axioms and Reaxioms

 Axiom. (Dictionary.com)  A self-evident truth that requires no proof. 

Axiomatic. (The Free Dictionary) Of, relating to, or resembling an axiom; self-evident.

Reaxiom.  (re-AX-iom)  new.   noun. 1.   A definitive contradiction in the indicative mood of a false axiom.  2.  A definitive redaction in the indicative mood of a carelessly stated axiom.   

Regular readers of this column recognize that its scholarship is informal, but since formal scholarship   resorts to terms like "axiomatic," the columnist does not expect to apologize for his informality any time soon. If the term "axiom" has meaning, which it does indeed, then "resembling an axiom" has none at all. Nothing can resemble an axiom; it is either an axiom or it isn't.  

Both formal scholars and journalists love to add syllables to nouns, ostensibly for clarity but often for confusion.  So when I see the word "axiomatic" I sense the whiff of a false,  or at least  careless,. axiom; the writer  is trying to present  an arguable point as a  self-evident truth.  Why? Because it often works.   

My  response has been to join the game and add a syllable of my own, so don't bother to look up "reaxiom" beyond the top of this page;  I just invented and defined the word  today.  Yes, it is a pun, but with a serious point; and I plead my modesty in adding just  one syllable, not the usual  two, three, or four:    axiomatic, axiomatical, axiomatically.

 I naively thought that  "axiom"  had never  been  predicated, but quickly learned I was wrong. "Axiomatization" is older than I am.  I'm only 75 years old, but the word is 80. 

This train of thought leads to an axiom of my own: "The longer the words used in an axiom, the less self-evident is the truth it affirms."  But the train of thought itself  is a sideline.  Back to my  point.     

 I invented "reaxiom" in the hope that thinking people will  stem the flow of false or careless  axioms by asserting reaxioms— either definitive contradictions that truly are self-evident, or definitive clarifications that eliminate ambiguity. 

Now I am in a box, because you expect me to provide examples—so that, as soon  as I provide a relevant one, I  may  be accused of bias.  So I won't—not from politics, religion, economics, or war. Instead I will resort to the artifice of  critics in more cruel times  when they wanted  to keep their heads or their jobs. .I refer you to an imaginary story you already know, with a punch line you can probably quote. It's most familiar version was written by Hans Christian Andersen. 

 An emperor was so fond of beautiful clothes that he was a patsy  for swindlers who told him they were going to make him magical clothes of unsurpassed beauty—so beautiful indeed that fools in their stupidity could not even see  them.The emperor could not see them, because they did not exist; but he pretended to,   because he was not about to taken for a fool.  Nobody else wanted to be taken for a fool either, so it was accepted as an axiom—a self-evident truth-- that the emperor had a suit of clothes that fools could not see. So the emperor finally presented his unclothed self on  parade in his new clothes, and all  the spectators agreed on the beauty of the clothes they could not see.  

Then   a child   provided the reaxiom, a definitive contradiction that has never been topped. Here is the final paragraph of the story as written by Andersen:    

" 'But he has nothing on at all,' said a little child at last. 'Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child,' said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. 'But he has nothing on at all,' cried at last the whole people. That made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, 'Now I must bear up to the end.' And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the train which did not exist."







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