The Word is Not the Thing – Tom & Jerry Edition

Polish mathematician and founder of general semantics Alfred Korzybski famously wrote that the map is not the territory. More directly, Korzybski added, “the word is not the thing.” We construct the reality of our perceived world and then proceed to live by the definitions dancing around in our heads. Language offers us the opportunity to share meaning and build culture, but it all begins with the translation of sense and thought into words.

In the spirit of “the word is not the thing,” I give you this clip from Tom and Jerry:

The relevant bit begins at 1:30 when Jerry falls into a bottle of “Invisible Ink,” at which point he actually becomes invisible. The writers of this episode of Tom and Jerry are relying on a clever language play where the ink isn’t just invisible, but so are the things that come into contact with it. Blue ink does turn us blue, and black ink turns us black, so it stands to reason that invisible ink would turn us invisible, right?

I should note that in its best years Tom and Jerry used little or no spoken language at all. The musical score did most of the “talking” and in this particular episode, while Jerry’s invisible, the camera movement even gives the illusion of Jerry’s movement through his environment.

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About mikeplugh

Media Ecology General Semantics Baseball Japan Fordham University
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One Response to The Word is Not the Thing – Tom & Jerry Edition

  1. Everything is very open with a clear clarification of the issues.
    It was truly informative. Your site is extremely helpful.

    Many thanks for sharing!

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