Printable Version
Pronunciation: si-lê-ji-zêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: An act of deductive reasoning, reasoning from the general to the specific, e.g. 'All humans are mortal, I am human, therefore I am mortal.'

Notes: Today's Good Word brings us to the mechanics of reasoning. A syllogism is an act of reasoning with a major premise, a minor one, and a conclusion as in the example above. Inductive reasoning is the opposite of deduction: from the specific to the general. If Mary dies, Joe dies, Bill dies, and so on, you may conclude that all humans are mortal, getting you to the major premise of the syllogism above. The adjective for syllogism is syllogistic.

In Play: A syllogism relies on the truth of its premises. If either premise is false, the conclusion will be false. For instance, "All men are brilliant, I am a man, therefore I am brilliant" is false because all men are not brilliant. Similarly, if I am a woman, the syllogism would be false even if all men were brilliant..

Word History: English picked up this word from French syllogisme "syllogism", inherited from Latin syllogismus, which Latin borrowed from Greek syllogismos. Syllogismos originally meant "computation, calculation", from syllogizesthai "bring together (in the mind), compute, conclude". The meaning derived from "reason together", comprising an assimilated form of syn- "(together) with"+ logizesthai "to reason, count", based on logos "word, idea, reason". Greek came by logos from PIE leg-/log- "to collect, gather", with derivatives meaning "speech" and "to speak" from the notion of "a collection of words". The PIE word broke up into various concepts in the Indo-European languages, including "collection", "word" and "law". Latin lex (leg-s), legis "law", but legere "to collect; to read" and Greek logos and lexicon "word book" derive from it. (It is reasonable at this point to thank Rob Towart for yet another insightful Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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