Language in Thought and Action

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Language in Thought and Action by S I Hayakawa

This is a book that must be made compulsory reading for every human being who communicates. Now that means pretty much everybody.

All of us communicate throughout the day. The ability to talk and communicate is what has made human beings the reigning species on the planet. Yet how little we understand about how we communicate!

Even though we have been communicating for centuries and millenia, we still cannot be certain that what we speak is understood by the other person as we intended. This is a rare book which I picked up in an obscure bookshop in Singapore.

I have been making photocopies of this book and have gifted it to many people. This book makes so much sense that I have also prepared a presentation on its contents and make it point to teach it to others whenever I get the opportunity.

Quotes from Language in Thought and Action

The habitual confusion of symbols with things symbolized, whether on the part of individuals or societies, is serious enough at all levels of culture to provide a perennial human problem… The symbol is not the thing symbolized; the word is not the thing; the map is not the territory it stands for.


Many situations in life as well as in literature demand that we pay no attention to what the words say, since the meaning may often be a great deal more intelligent and intelligible than the surface sense of the words themselves.


What we call society is a vast network of mutual agreements.


Having defined a word, people often believe that some kind of understanding has been established.


What we call things and where we draw the line between one class of things and another depend upon the interests we have and the purposes of the classification.


It has been said that knowledge is power, but effective knowledge is that which includes knowledge of the limitations of one’s knowledge.

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