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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:59 pm

• reify •

Pronunciation: ree-ê-fai • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To project or perceive an abstraction as an object or thing, as to reify the elements (wind, thunder, rain) as gods. 2. (Marxist Philosophy) To depersonalize, to perceive people as things or objects, as to reify workers as numbers on a spreadsheet.

Notes: The process of reifying is called reification, and a reificatory (the adjective) process it is, too. Someone who reifies would be a reifier, whomever that word could refer to. Notice how the Y is replaced by I before suffixes beginning with E.

In Play: When anything abstract becomes a real object in any sense of the word, it has become reified: "Farley always thought that Gwendolyn was pulchritude reified." Now that Marxism is pretty much dead, everyone is free to use today's word in its second sense: "In all his memos and everything he says, Palmquist reifies his office staff as robots under his complete control."

Word History: The root of today's Good Word is Latin res "thing, affair", also the root of real and the re- in republic. The latter word comes from the Latin phrase res publica "affair(s) of the public". (Russian retains the S in its respublika "republic".) The ablative plural case of res is rebus "by means of things", now used in English to refer to a puzzle in which words are represented by pictures. This root does not show up in many other Indo-European languages. Sanskrit rah "possession" is probably related, but there is no evidence of it in Germanic languages like English. (When it comes to Good Words, Lew Jury's suggestions, like this one, are always the real thing.)
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Postby MTC » Sat Feb 02, 2013 9:17 am

About the etymology of reify, Dr. Goodword discusses "res," but gives short shrift, in fact no shrift at all, to the extremely useful suffix, "fy" from Latin "facere," "to make or do." Just slap an "fy" on the behind of an inert root to bring it to life! (The foregoing sentence is an example of reification.)

Poets deliberately reify when they create metaphors, e.g., "the heart of the matter." But reification may slip from benign, poetic use into logical fallacy, especially in political rhetoric:

"Reification (from Latin res (“thing”) and facere (“to make”), also known as concretism, or the fallacy of misplaced concreteness) is a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event, or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a “real thing” something which is merely an idea. For example: if the phrase “fighting for justice” is taken literally, justice would be reified."


Treating an abstraction like "Terror" as a person in the phrase "War on Terror" exemplifies this fallacy. Is terror a person or a tactic? Does thinking about terror as a person lead us to confuse the nature of the problem?



Postby bnjtokyo » Sun Feb 03, 2013 9:06 am

good post: I appreciate your expansion on the etymology of the other half of "reify"

Philip Hudson
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Postby Philip Hudson » Sun Feb 03, 2013 9:56 pm

MTC: I am happified by your suffix explanation.
It is dark at night, but the Sun will come up and then we can see.

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