Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ad Mominem

An interesting question came up when I was with friends the other day. We were demonstrating unfair arguments to use when fighting. Most people, at least the married ones, I guess, have heard the rule not to bring up old fights when you’re talking about a present conflict. But this is even more important. Don’t bring mothers into it.

As if in-law relations are not already touchy enough, and as though a wife does not already feel the contrast she makes to the mother of her husband, why go and use these sainted women as part of your argument? Example: Your mother is crazy! You’re just like her. Or the slightly better: Your mother is crazy; at least you aren’t as bad as her!

Can’t you just sense the bristling tempers when you provoke an opponent by insulting their mother? I have a sense of indignation and no one has even directed these comments at me or my mother.

There are – you’ll learn something here, I promise – Latin phrases describing invalid arguments and logical fallacies, commonly used in debate. Latin used to be used a lot more when the French were more popular (they introduced most of the Latin roots to English), and old books and the intelligentsia still boast the incomprehensible (literally) attribute of italicized foreign phrases and words that no one in the world uses any more. They may have presented important concepts concisely and memorably, but not memorable enough, since I do not know them.

One phrase still in use is ad hominem. This is, as I understand it, when you attack the person and not their argument. If I am speaking to a dunce and he is arguing that two plus two is four, I cannot point to him and criticize his intelligence to win the argument. Two plus two will still be four. Truth is not relative to the deliverer. Anyway, the official definition for ad hominem is: “asserting that an argument is wrong and/or the source is wrong to argue at all purely because of something discreditable/not-authoritative about the source or those sources cited by it rather than addressing the soundness of the argument itself.” Wikipedia says so. Now, you cannot fairly argue that simply because Wikipedia has an in-credible reputation, we must reject its definition. Nor can you say that I am ugly, and thus it is impossible for me to correctly communicate the definition.

The mother-attack reminded me of this fallacy, ad hominem, so I looked up at my friend, who is a genius, and, assuming he knew Latin, being a genius, asked him to alter the phrase to represent source attack mother variety. However, he is also a computer genius, and did the highly intelligent thing: Google. (You’ve no idea how entertained I am that all these urban-knowledge websites are occurring in this article!) Apparently, we are not the first to desire a name for this ridiculous habit of insulting mothers in an attempt to win an argument. Suggestions for the Latin fallacy are:

"ad mominem" codified at the (content advisory) Urban Dictionary.

"ad urmomum You might want to read this whole article.

I don’t know why we use italics for foreign phrases. Google reveals merely that it is conventional and thus stylistically correct, but nothing more. Latin and Italics, I am interested to note, both claim Italy as their home country.

This is mostly irrelevant, but came up as I followed my friend’s research. What are those P’s and Q’s we’re supposed to mind?

Didn’t you learn something?

To God be all glory.

1 comment:

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Obvious thanks to my friend for doing most of the research! He also suggested I put this on my web-log, without saying web-log, but that I ought to surrender to calling this a blog like everyone else in the world except him. Since this is BLOGGER, I intend to comply.

Thanks, Brian.
To God be all glory,