Social media is filled with arguments. But usually they are comprised of opinions or pictures and not ‘good arguments’. We humans don’t often actually produce arguments, but merely shout at each other. How does this use of ‘argument’ arise? Why do we usually think of argument as a brannigan or donnybrook? Like all words ‘argument’ has evolved.
A quick internet trip to Thesaurus.com yields for ‘argument’ over 50 synonyms. These include ‘brawl’ ‘clash’ ‘spat’ etc. But notice:
Word Origin & History – argument late 14c., “statements and reasoning in support of a proposition,” from Fr. argument (13c.), from L. argumentum, from arguere “to argue” (see argue). Sense passed through “subject of contention” to “a quarrel,” a sense formerly attached to argumentation.
The word carries with it two distinct senses:
- an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one.
“I’ve had an argument with my father”
- a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.
“there is a strong argument for submitting a formal appeal”
Lawyers and, of course, philosophers use the word in the second sense, while on social media it is often the first sense that is intended.
In Episode 29 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus a customer goes to the Argument Clinic but initially arrives in the abuse room where he runs into Mr. Barnard.
Mr. B: What do you want?
C: Well, I was just . . .
Mr. B: Don’t give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!
After abuse like that for some time the customer finds Mr. Vibrating in the argument room:
C: Ah, is this the right room for an argument?
Mr. V: I told you once.
C: No, you haven’t.
Mr. V: Yes, I have.
Mr. V: Just now.
C: No, you didn’t.
Mr. V: Yes I did.
Mr. V merely contradicts every statement that the customer makes. Finally the Customer draws the distinction as follows: “Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just he automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.”