[Math Lair] Linguistic Fallacies

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A linguistic fallacy is a type of informal fallacy that relates to a language-related defect in an argument. Linguistic fallacies might involve using words or sentences that have vague, unclear, or multiple meanings or other inconsistencies. Such fallacies are also referred to as fallacies of ambiguity or verbal fallacies.

Here is a list of linguistic fallacies:

One of the six linguistic fallacies listed by Aristotle. In English (as well as other languages), many words have multiple meanings. One extreme example is the word "cleave", which has two opposite meanings: to adhere and to separate. An argument that uses one meaning of a word in one part of the argument and another meaning of the word in another part commits the fallacy of equivocation. For example:
Amphiboly, sometimes referred to as amphibology in older texts, means "double arrangement", and occurs when premises in an argument are amphibolous, which means that they are ambiguous because of careless or ungrammatical phrasing. While such ambiguous sentences occur relatively frequently, they don't occur too often in arguments, and hence the fallacy of amphiboly is quite rare. In On Sophistical Refutations, Aristotle gave the example "Surely you insist on being what you insist on being. You insist on a stone being: there­fore, you insist on being a stone." In this argument, the phrase "you insist on being" is interpreted both as "you assert the existence of," and "you assert that you are." It's unlikely to fool too many people, though.
Like the fallacies above, this fallacy was also described by Aristotle. The Greek language is a highly inflected language. Inflections are indicated by accents on various syllables in the word, to denote things such as which verb tense to use. During Aristotle's time, these accents were not written; rather, the reader had to use his knowledge of spoken Greek to interpret what accents were required. It was possible for the reader to reinterpret what the writer meant to change the meaning of the sentence. Obviously, this doesn't happen in English very much. Probably the closest thing to it in English is that words such as "re-sent", if written without the hyphen (as frequently occurs), can be misinterpreted, in this example as "resent," but an actual argument that hinges on this ambiguity would probably be quite rare. Due to the fallacy being uncommon outside of Greek, some authors treat this fallacy as including misplaced emphasis, although Aristotle did not include misplaced emphasis in his definition of the fallacy.
Another fallacy described by Aristotle. This fallacy involves arguing that a property shared by all members of a set must apply to that set, or that a property shared by all parts of something must apply to the whole. While this fallacy (as well as "Division", below) could also be classified as a material fallacy, it can also be classified as a verbal fallacy in the case where the words used to describe the property have different meanings when applied to the parts than when applied to the whole. For example: "All of the players on the team are good. Therefore the team must be good." Used to describe a player, the word "good" relates to the player's athletic skills, while when used to describe the team, it relates to their ability to win games.
Another fallacy described by Aristotle. The fallacy of division is the opposite of the fallacy of composition. In other words, it involves concluding that a property of something must apply to all its parts, or that a property of a set must apply to all members of that set. For example: "The team is good. Therefore all the players must be good."
Form of Expression or Figure of Speech
This is the last of Aristotle's six Fallacies dependent on Language. It involves being misled by the structure or etymology of a word. The examples that Aristotle used (in Greek, different words may have different cases or genders even though the word endings are the same) don't occur too often in English. However, in English, it is possible to be misled by interpreting a word literally when it was intended to be used figuratively, or vice versa, or interpreting a word in a misleading way based on its structure or etymology. Here is an example from J. S. Mill's Utilitarianism:
The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible, is that people actually see it. The only proof that a sound is audible, is that people hear it: and so of the other sources of our experience. In like manner, I apprehend, the sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it.

Mill is misled by the termination of the words; to say that something is visible is to say that people can see it, while to say that something is desirable is to say that it is worthy of desire.

Misplaced Emphasis
Changing the emphasis on syllables or words of an English sentence can change the meaning of the sentence or suggest a different meaning. For example, compare what is meant by
"We've never caught Debbie stealing anything."
"We've never caught Debbie stealing anything."
Abstraction or Quoting Out of Context
This fallacy involves removing a passage from its surrounding context, and possibly excerpting it or altering emphasis, so that the meaning of the quotation becomes different from what the original author intended.
Argument from Innuendo
Innuendo is a veiled attack on character or reputation. For example, a dean of students, asked whether a graduate had any disciplinary problems, replied "No, we were never able to convict him of any violations of college rules." The dean implicitly suggests that the university had suspected and/or investigated disciplinary problems. The fallacy of argument from innuendo consists of directing others to a certain conclusion through a careful choice of words or sentences that suggest but do not assert that conclusion. The use of innuendo is not strictly fallacious (as in the example above); there's nothing inherently fallacious about suggesting a conclusion implicitly without offering evidence, and innuendo often occurs outside the context of an argument. The fallacy arises in cases when such an argument is used to shift the burden of proof, making it similar to the fallacy of argument from ignorance.

Sources used (see bibliography page for titles corresponding to numbers): 6, 15, 18, 19.