Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Penguin Paradox

If you’ve ever read an introduction to linguistic or analytical philosophy, you will have met the concept of the “semantical paradoxes”, such as Grelling’s.   These involve the limits of language -- although, not in the usual way whereby there is so much you wish to impart but you can’t put it into words :  rather the opposite.  Language, unbridled, can take us places we should never go, and needs to be regimented -- to have limits set upon it, like a wayward teen.  (Russell to language:  “You - are - so - grounded !!”)

One of the variant colors or flavors  is:  What is the largest number not nameable in fewer than twenty-two syllables?   (There is a variant that replaces fewer with less, and thus can say “twenty-one”;  but grammatical decorum forbids.)
So you think about it, and come up with some number with a lot of nines in it, and proudly present your answer.  Then the presenter grins and says:  Ah, but I just named it with that very phrase, and it took me one syllable less to do it!

Actually, I can top that.

So, for fifty points:
=> What is the largest number nameable by an English monosyllable??? <=

(Thinks …   thinks …)

(Hmmmmmmm ……….)

And the answer is:


“Bob” is my name for a certain very, very big number.  He’s huge.  And Bob is the largest because there are only finitely many English monosyllables, which were dealt out to a bunch of us, and I waited till everyone else had christened his number first.  Bob is defined as the sum of all those numbers.
(Same strategy Lyndon Johnson used in wrangling his election to the Senate.)

Since I discovered this paradox, parable, or whatever it is,  I get to name it.  I call it The Penguin Paradox, because I like penguins.

“Bob”s official mascot


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