Undefined terms
Here a semantic experiment suggests itself. I have performed this experiment repeatedly on myself and others, invariably with similar results. Imagine that we are engaged in a friendly serious discussion with some one, and that we decide to enquire into the meanings of words. For this special experiment, it is not necessary to be very exacting, as this would enormously and unnecessarily complicate the experiment. It is useful to have a piece of paper and a pencil to keep a record of the progress.

We begin by asking the 'meaning' of every word uttered, being satisfied for this purpose with the roughest definitions; then we ask the 'meaning' of the words used in the definitions, and this process is continued usually for no more than ten to fifteen minutes, until the victim begins to speak in circles—as, for instance, defining 'space' by 'length' and 'length' by 'space'. When this stage is reached, we have come usually to the undefined terms of a given individual. If we still press, no matter how gently, for definitions, a most interesting fact occurs. Sooner or later, signs of affective disturbances appear. Often the face reddens; there is a bodily restlessness; sweat appears—symptoms quite similar to those seen in a schoolboy who has forgotten his lesson, which he 'knows but cannot tell'. If the partner in the experiment is capable of self-observation, he invariably finds that he feels an internal affective pressure, connected, perhaps, with the rush of blood to the brain and probably best expressed in some such words as 'what he "knows" but cannot tell', or the like. Here we have reached the bottom and the foundation of all non-elementalistic meanings—the meanings of undefined terms, which we 'know' somehow, but cannot tell. In fact, we have reached the un-speakable level.

Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity p. 21.
© ESGS, 2001.