The Use of Words
Part I, L. 2
How do we use words?
Words are signs of our concepts. But it is not always the case that we use one word to mean one concept. Because of our creativity, and because we arbitrarily decide to attach meaning to certain sounds, we are not completely limited in the way we use words to signify meanings.
Sometimes we use more than one word to mean the same thing. An example is “little” and “small”, which both mean the same thing, though the sounds used are different.
In other cases, we use one and the same word and attach different meanings to it. An example is “bark” meaning the sound a dog makes and meaning the outer surface of a tree.
At times we use more than one word to refer to something which is actually understood to exist as a kind of unity. An example would be “Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico” which is signified by six words, yet understood to be one thing.
In order to insure that no misunderstandings occur, for the sake of clarity and precision, and to maintain our contact with reality, we must distinguish between the different ways we can use words.
Univocal, Equivocal, and Analogous Use of Words
When a word is always used to refer to the same concept, this is referred to in Logic as the univocal use of a word. Fortunately, this most common and simple usage is that which most interests us in our study of Logic.
We can use the same word in many different contexts, but always with the same meaning.
For example, we say,
“Dogs are animals.”
“Horses are animals.”
“Pigs are animals.”
In these different uses, the meaning of “animals” is always the same.
This is an example of the univocal use of a word, or, to put it another way, the word itself is univocal because it always means the same thing.