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WORDS and What They Do To You

Beginning Lessons in General Semantics for Junior and Senior High School


Illustrations by Lucy Ozone



© 1953, Row, Peterson and Company
© 1965, Cathrine Minteer
Web Edition © 2001, Institute of General Semantics

Table of Contents
























Louis Agassiz, Science Teacher, Nathaniel Shaler

Everything Has A Name, Helen Keller

The Blind Men and the Elephant, John Godfrey Saxe

The Emperor's New Clothes, Hans Christian Andersen


The endsheets of this little book were designed to stress the facts that we live in a constant crossfire of language and that words do something to us. By words we mean all forms of communication—words that reach us in conversations and speeches and classroom discussions, over the radio and television, through newspapers, magazines, and books, from billboards and from advertising on packages.

As indicated above, the program developed in this book is in the area of communication. It presents comprehensive, flexible plans for a course of sixteen lessons. Based on some of the principles of general semantics, the lessons deal with the relationship between language and thought, with the scientific use of language, and with some misuses of language. The course is designed to train pupils to detect and to deal with bias, prejudice, oversimplifications, and ambiguity in what they read and hear. The pupil is also trained to look to language for a clue to understanding himself, understanding his relationship to others, and understanding his environment. Human relations, science, and social science can be correlated subjects in this expanded program of language arts.

Experience shows that these lessons provide pupils with a new, strong motivation for careful listening, critical reading, accurate speaking, and effective writing.

Editor’s Note for the Web Edition

Nine days ago, terrorists hijacked four airplanes here in the United States. Two of these planes were crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and another into the Pentagon building outside of Washington, DC. The fourth crashed (presumably through the actions of its crew and passengers) into a rural area of Pennsylvania. Currently, the casualty figures stand at: 266 passengers and crew on the four planes; 125 at the Pentagon; and 6,333 at the World Trade Center (with 6,291 injured).

This evening, President Bush addressed both houses of Congress to declare “war on terrorism”. He said countries around the world would have to choose, “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”. He also vowed, “whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done”.

Since the attacks, the FBI has reported that numerous people of Arab descent have been attacked daily. It seems that outraged citizens have decided to take justice into their own hands, and that to them, all Arabs are ‘the same’.

After witnessing some of the ‘horrors’ of World War I, Korzybski concluded that if our ‘social sciences’ didn’t progress as fast as our technology, mankind was likely to destroy itself. This served to inspire him to study these matters, which resulted in his devising the system we call “general semantics”.

In my life, the need for Korzybski’s formulations has never been clearer. Un-sanity runs rampant, and leaders on both sides of the conflict use rhetoric to “fire up their followers”. No side of the socio-political continuum lacks for fanatics, dogmatists, absolutists, fundamentalists, etc.

This year, the Institute of General Semantics has been working on getting its out-of-print publications back into circulation. However, Words and What They Do To You seemed a bit too dated to be reprinted. Therefore, it was decided to make it available via our website in HTML form.

While we believe that anyone can find some useful insights in these lesson plans, we hope that teachers especially will find ‘ideas’ in them that they can use or modify for their classroom presentations. If you so wish, we encourage you to print out a copy of the book.

I owe a great debt of gratitude (once again) to Dr. Susan Presby Kodish for proofreading the initial version of this project. As usual, her keen eyes spotted many errors introduced in the process of transformation which I had overlooked from familiarity. Any errors which remain, are mine.

Homer Jean Moore, Jr.

September 20, 2001 Manchaca, Texas

What We Observed in Teaching General Semantics

Without doubt you have noticed evidence of the widespread interest of teachers in general semantics. It is indicated by the number of articles appearing in professional journals, the frequent references to it in textbooks, and the popularity of lectures and of courses dealing with the subject.

Successful teachers have always applied the principles of general semantics in their teaching methods, but too generally, the earliest opportunity for pupils to experience the benefits of a program of direct training has been at the college level. This question has been asked: If it were possible to adapt a system of semantic training for children, could it be given at the elementary level?

Our answer to this question is based on the results of experiments conducted in Chicago schools during a three-year period. Three hundred seventh- and eighth-grade pupils at the Nettelhorst School were taught a series of lessons adapted from the materials and methods that have proved so inspiring to Dr. Irving Lee’s classes in general semantics at Northwestern University. Our classes ranged in size from forty-two to forty-eight pupils each. The chronological ages ranged from 12.0 to 15.4, the I.Q.’s from 84 to 130, the standardized reading scores from 5.8 to 13.0+. There were also wide ranges in cultural and economic backgrounds.

In addition, student teachers used our general semantics course in other Chicago schools of different economic, cultural, and racial backgrounds. Experienced teachers, supervisors, and administrators who visited these classes, as well as the classes at Nettelhorst School, commented on the enthusiasm, the wide participation, the careful listening, and most important of all, the ability of the pupils to apply what they had learned to real-life situations.

The following paragraphs discuss some of our reasons for being so enthusiastic about teaching general semantics to our upper-grade pupils.

1. General semantics unified the areas of learning. Although we placed the subject in the curriculum under the language arts division, we found as the lessons developed that we were stimulating interest in science, social studies, mathematics, and the fine arts. A keen desire to participate in the discussions provided the pupils with a strong motivation for study in many fields. Pupils observed the relationship of their subject to their total learning. As one boy said, “It makes all your learning come together and add up.”

The applications of the lessons gave us an opportunity to work in human relations and in mental hygiene. We found also a place and a means for consideration of ethical and moral values.

Pupils were aware of the timeliness of this teaching. We did not have to justify this subject by saying, “It’s a requirement for the next grade,” or “You will appreciate this some day.” The pupils were eager for self-knowledge; they gathered round the place where we came to grips with the questions and problems that were part of their everyday life.

2. General semantics reached each pupil at his own level of experience. The pupil spoke of his own experiences when he contributed examples of real-life situations to his class. He read at his own reading level when seeking an illustration of some general semantics principle. Since there were activities and applications within the capacity of all, it was possible for each pupil to have the satisfaction of numerous successful experiences in communication. Enthusiastic participation was a criterion of the success of our lessons.

We had met a basic need of all children when a pupil had the feeling of being part of his group and of having something worth while to contribute. Some who had been rejected or who had been isolated by the group established a new relationship with their peers as they gained prestige through having an opportunity to report on some special interest or hobby. One uninterested boy, who was waiting for his sixteenth birthday so that he could drop out of school, was gradually drawn into the lessons until one day he approached his teacher with his little group of followers and asked, “Where can you get this stuff in high school and college?” For the first time we had reached him with what we had to offer. If a teacher is willing to pioneer. in general semantics teaching, and it is a new field, he will find his reward in numerous such reactions of pupils.

3. General semantics led to better pupil-teacher relationship. When the pupil learned how difficult it was to achieve effective communication and saw how frequently adults make semantic errors, he realized that conflict between himself and persons in authority might be due to misevaluations in thinking and speaking.

Through a sharing of common experiences in the class discussions, a better understanding and a spirit of co-operation developed. We learned more about our pupils’ backgrounds and standards in these discussions than we had learned in many of our tests or surveys. One pupil told of a visit backstage to meet Mary Garden; another in the same lesson found her example in her rat-infested home; and a third spoke of his afterschool job as a delivery boy. Only in this truly democratic atmosphere could these children share their experiences with the confidence that they would be respectfully considered by the group and understood by the teacher.

Each lesson was a new adventure in teacher-pupil relations; teacher and pupils were thinking together, laughing together, learning together, and with it all the teacher had the feeling that perhaps he was laying the foundation for a “togetherness” that our world needs so much today.

4. General semantics improved the emotional climate of the classroom. The teacher who applied semantic techniques in his teaching stimulated and enlivened instruction in all subjects through the use of multisensory devices: activities, trips, firsthand experiences, and audio-visual aids.

If the teacher applied general semantics principles to his own thinking, he was likely to avoid snap judgments, cynicism, arrogance, and easy generalizations. He. was aware of differences, change, and multiple-causations. His freedom from the tensions caused by misevaluations proved the most important factor in freeing the pupils from tension.

Our pupils reflected the attitude of the parents toward the school and its program, and we knew that establishing favorable public relations tended to result in a happier classroom. The handbook, It Starts in the Classroom, published by the National Education Association, Department of Classroom Teachers, presents many applications of general semantics principles for achieving good home and community relations.

5. General semantics altered pupil behavior. Students who had this training asked more questions. They also listened more attentively. They evaluated their sources of information more carefully. Because of a new motivation, they read more widely and with greater interest.

General semantics provided the teacher with a way of talking to pupils when counseling them. Pupils seemed to examine their motives and conduct in a new light, and this self-scrutiny often led to changes in behavior.

The pupil was taught that these lessons had little value if they were regarded as so many facts to be learned. He learned that the lessons were successful only if they went more than skin-deep, that they were successful only if he applied this new learning in other classrooms, on the playground, on the street, and in his home.

6. General semantics stimulated wide, critical reading. The reading lists given in this book were compiled from pupil reports and are available in class readers and in school library books. They represent a wide range of interests and reading abilities.

About midway through the course, we introduced the reading to find evidence of, or illustration for, a theory. The pupils were asked to read for examples of “allness” or “statements of inference” or “failure to date” in their Junior Scholastic or Current Events papers or in daily newspapers. A pupil who found such an example reported it to the class, and the class read it to verify his finding. After a few weeks of such training, the pupils extended this procedure to library books. Students seemed to read with more care when preparing for a panel discussion of how the people in their particular books showed patterns of evaluations that led to misunderstandings or to agreements.

7. General semantics motivated written expression. We did no writing in these classes until the pupils expressed a need for it. At first many students in our classes of from forty-two to forty-eight pupils were very shy about speaking to the group. About midway through the course that shyness disappeared. Then often, after each class, we heard the complaint, “I had something to say, but I didn’t have a chance to say it.” Discussions were continued around the teacher’s desk and in the halls, and sometimes even into another classroom. We decided that a bulletin board, where we could post written applications of the lessons we had studied, would give everyone a chance to express himself. It would also provide stimulating reading material for our spare time. The stories that the pupils wrote proved to be interesting, revealing views of their personalities and backgrounds.

8. General semantics emphasized maturity rather than competition. The pupils became keenly interested in their own individual growth, and, as a result, they developed insight into their own problems. They often expressed pleasure when they discovered that they were able to understand and to overcome some block to their progress.

When the pressure of competition was removed, each pupil seemed to enjoy and to encourage the progress of other pupils; they did not show concern when their achievements were surpassed by other’s achievements.

This interest in self-improvement and the harmonious interpupil relationship fostered by the principles of general semantics made for a happier classroom for both pupil and teacher.

How Much Time Is Required for the Course?

We covered the work in this book in about seventy class periods by using one English period a week. This extended the course from seventh grade through eighth grade. Below is a listing of the scope of work that we found could be covered most efficiently by each grade using one period a week.

Seventh grade — Lessons 1 through 8

Eighth grade — Review of Lessons 1 through 8 and Lessons 9 through 16

If, however, you find that the lessons must be given in a one-year period, you may accelerate the course, or you may choose those lessons which you feel will be most valuable to your pupils. In either case, we urge you to give the pupils adequate time to assimilate this new learning.

Even though our experiments were at the elementary level, teachers have reported that an intensive program of daily lessons for three or four weeks at the beginning of high-school science, mathematics, and social studies courses proved highly satisfactory.

The time allotted will depend on whether semantics is being taught as a unit in the language arts program or whether it is being taught as an introductory discipline for science, mathematics, social studies, or ethics.

How the Lessons Are Organized

Each lesson is set up in two parts: first, a Teacher Summary, which gives an overview of the material to be read as an aid in preparing the lessons; second, a Presentation to Pupils, which gives the step-by-step procedure to follow in presenting each lesson to the class.

Each Teacher Summary includes the following sections: Theoretical Basis, Resource Readings, Examples of Misevaluations in This Area, and Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop. These sections are discussed below.

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

This brief statement gives the basic idea or theory from which the lesson is developed: It is this theory you are going to test with the class.

Resource Readings

These readings are brief selections from the writings of some of the general semanticists. Each explains briefly the theory developed in the lesson. If you wish to extend your reading in the field, you will find that Language Habits in Human Affairs by Dr. Irving J. Lee is a very readable, understandable book that has helpful exercises and activities.

The quotations for the readings have been taken from the following books with the publishers’ permission:

Chase, Stuart. The Tyranny of Words. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938.

Hayakawa, S. I. Language in Thought and Action. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949.

___________, Language in Action. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1941.

Johnson, Wendell. People in Quandaries. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1946.

Korzybski, Alfred. Science and Sanity. Lakeville, Conn.: International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Company, 1948.

__________, Manhood of Humanity. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1921. Renewed, 1948, Count Alfred Korzybski.

Lee, Irving J. Language Habits in Human Affairs. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941.

The author’s name, the title of the book, and the page number appear after each quotation.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

Examples of misunderstandings, conflicts, and disagreements due to the particular language habit that we are studying in the lesson are listed. We urge you to add your own observations of misuses of language to this list.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

If our teaching is to be worthwhile, we must expect to alter some of the attitudes, appreciations, and habits of our students. We have listed specific awarenesses, attitudes, appreciations, and habits as the desired outcomes of each lesson. We don’t expect to achieve all of them, and there is no way of gauging the exact measure of our success, but if we see any evidence of improvement in attitudes and habits, we consider that we have made real progress.

The second part of each lesson is called Presentation to Pupils and usually contains these sections: Theory, Experiments, Observation or Evidence, Conclusion, Applications, and Question.

Presentation to Pupils


Say to the pupils, “Let’s test this idea,” or “Here is a theory we might test.[1] Then write a very brief statement of the theory on the board and explain any new terms it contains. Let the class give a brief review of any previous lesson that may have a bearing on the development of this idea if you feel that the review will clarify the pupils’ thinking.

Give a number of examples within the experience of the pupils in order to illustrate the implications or applications of this principle. We found that if we illustrated those experiences on the blackboard by line drawings or stick figures, a more lasting impression was made on the pupil. When the pupil recalled the lesson later, he was likely to go to the board and diagram his idea with the stick figures.


The experiments are activities, games, or stunts in which a large percentage or preferably all the class can participate. Conduct just as many of these experiments as you can devise because the effectiveness of the entire lesson depends on the pupils’ realization that they are testing the theory. They are not accepting something that they are told to believe; they are finding out for themselves. Avoid pointing out any conclusions to be made. Let the pupils discover a common factor in the experiments and formulate their own conclusions.

The experiments are extremely important for another reason: they make multisensory impressions on the child’s nervous system. This is the place where the teaching goes more than skin-deep; it becomes part of the child. We made surveys with ninety-six pupils to determine the effectiveness of the lessons and found that the ones most often recalled with evident pleasure and understanding were those in which the child had participated in a number of activities.

Observation or Evidence

Either one or both of these will be given in each lesson, depending on the nature of the material presented. You may start with observations of your own to “prime the pump,” or you may let the pupils challenge the theory with their own observations. You may direct the discussion by asking the pupils to challenge the observations of their classmates. The pupil-centered discussion that follows is one of the most stimulating features of the lesson.

This is a good place to stress careful, courteous listening. You can develop the pupils’ respect for each other and confidence in you by having an informal, encouraging manner and by avoiding condemnations of honest opinions or frequent criticism of form. We have watched a remarkable growth in form, although all our emphasis has been on what the pupil was trying to say. We saw pupils stimulated to enthusiastic participation and careful listening by an occasional query, such as “Does anyone differ with the speaker?” or “Who can add something to the last thought?” or “Who has followed the speaker so closely that he can sum up what has just been said?”

Note-taking in class and written assignments tend to distract the pupils from concentrating on the discussion. For this reason, both note-taking and written assignments have been avoided. The development of the ideas is important, and anything that detracts from that development is to be avoided.


Do not state a conclusion and ask the class to accept it. Sometimes we have spent three or four periods on one lesson, experimenting or gathering evidence until some pupil formulated a conclusion that was generally acceptable to the other pupils. You must be alert for the first statement of the conclusion. Then repeat it as if you were doubtful and ask, “Who differs or who agrees with this pupil?” Allow the discussion to continue until the pupils agree on a statement. When the pupils have once accepted a conclusion, make it a basis for succeeding lessons, reminding the pupils that it was the outcome of their experiments or activities.


At this point you may say to the pupils, “So what? Your conclusion is interesting, but it has little value unless we can apply it to our everyday situations. Where on the playground, or in your home have you seen a similar situation?”

We have seen the creative drama technique used here most effectively. Let the pupils volunteer to act out the application for their classmates. There should be no direction or criticism from either class or teacher before or during the performance. Make the actors responsible for the planning. If the actors make their classmate-audience understand the patterns of evaluation they are demonstrating, the dramatization is successful. The first performances may be stiff and the actors self-conscious, but the pupils soon learn that their audience is not satisfied unless the portrayal is lifelike.

A number of lessons conclude with a Question to be discussed by the class. You will see the need for discussing these questions as the lessons begin to affect the pupils’ thinking and acting. They are often so impressed with their new ideas that they carry them to exaggerated lengths. We add the Questionto help clarify their thinking.

Lesson 1

What Do We Study in General Semantics?

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

General semantics provides a method of studying the part language plays in human affairs. The physical scientist is able to use words so accurately that they enable him to build bridges and erect giant superstructures. Perhaps the scientist’s use of words may provide a clue to help the teacher, the pupil, oranyone evaluate his own language habits. Can we learn to use language more efficiently and accurately to achieve understanding and agreement?

Resource Readings

“When does language become reliable? Why do people so often misunderstand each other? How much of anything can anyone talk about? How can our language habits be brought up to date to fit the most advanced findings of science? How can language be made true to fact? What are the methods of definition? Does silence have any value? What about prophecies, prejudice, and propaganda? What uses of words breed conflict? What characterizes the speaking of men who appear cynical, cocksure, and overly certain? Is it possible to speak without bias and partiality? ...

“These are the questions about which this book is written. Somehow, they come to grips with human living. They have something to do with the problems mankind faces in the twentieth century.”—Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, pp. 1, 2.

“... Korzybski had succeeded in formulating a theory and method which gave a means of proper evaluation whenever language is used. This body of data and method leading to habits of adequate language-fact relationships he called General Semantics.”—Ibid., p. 8.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

“Korzybski’s system, concerned with accuracy and predictability, must be considered as something different in emphasis from the pursuits of other ‘semanticists.’ I should distinguish several varieties of semanticists: (1) those popular writers who would debunk abstraction-makers by shouting ‘define your terms,’ (2) those students of linguistics who seek to study the history of the changes of meaning of individual words in our language, (3) the anthropologists who study the grammatical and syntactical make-up of languages of different people, (4) the lexicographers who chart the ways individual words have been used, (5) the logicians who emphasize the problems of verbal coherence and the avoidance of inconsistency within discourse, (6) the rhetoricians who work to discover the ways of using words for their effect in influencing attitudes and actions, together with the techniques of expression by which to achieve clarity, strength, harmony, melody, elegance, etc.” Ibid., pp. 8, 9.

General semantics differs from these in that the emphasis is on the effectiveness of human communication.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. An awareness of the all-pervasive character of language in a human being’s daily affairs from infancy to maturity.

2. The habit of looking to language as a possible clue to some of our misunderstandings and conflicts.

3. An appreciation of the scientific method as applied in the physical sciences and a consideration of the possibility of application of that method to language.


We have found lessons 1 and 2 basic to the successful development of the course and also the most difficult to present. The pupil’s introductory lessons are likely to influence the character of his future responses. For that reason we urge you again to enlist his cooperation in an experiment. Give him to understand that there is no set body of knowledge to be taken on faith. There are no right and wrong answers. Teacher and students are working together to test theories about our use of language, and all that the pupil is asked to contribute is his close attention and his thoughtful consideration of the discussion. Encourage each pupil to participate in the discussion at any time. Assure him that his contribution is likely to be of value and will be respectfully considered.

If this spirit of inquiry and respect for self and others is established and maintained, the lessons will arouse an enthusiasm that far surpasses the ordinary classroom attitude.

Teachers have asked me whether there is confusion and disorder in a large class when so many pupils want to get into a discussion. The answer is “No.” We teach listening as well as thinking. Stress the fact that if a pupil wants to talk, he must be able to express the previous speaker’s viewpoint. Pupils soon learn that they must listen carefully to be able to do this. Establish this idea in the first lesson, and remind the pupils of it when necessary.

Presentation to Pupils[1] LESSON 1


“We have an idea that we should like this class to test. We believe that if the method of the scientist could be applied to a study of our language habits we should have fewer misunderstandings and conflicts. There is such a method of studying language called general semantics.” Write general semantics on the board.

As you draw answers to the following statements from the pupils, write the answers on the board.

“Who are some of our best known scientists? How do you suppose they worked? Tell me what the scientist does.” (He has a question, an idea, a theory, or sometimes just a hunch; he performs experiments, makes tests; he gathers evidence and checks it; he observes carefully; he finally reaches a conclusion; he tests his conclusions.) “Do you think that we might use this method in studying our language habits? Let’s make a start today by testing the idea that our language habits may be a cause of some of our difficulties.”


“How many uses of language have you observed today?” Write on the board as pupils volunteer examples (greetings, commands, radio, newspapers, street signs, playground games, textbooks, instruction in classrooms, etc.). Establish the foundation for wide participation at this point by encouraging the very shy pupils to volunteer at least one example. Do not refuse or criticize any statement. Restate it if necessary, use it, and encourage the speaker.

“How many misunderstandings have you observed in the last few days at home, in school, on the street, read about in the newspaper, or heard on radio or television?” List on the board as the pupils mention playground quarrels, failure to understand directions, war news, strikes, divorce, etc. Display the front page of a newspaper and call attention to the conflicts shown in the news and cartoons.

“How many of these misunderstandings, do you think, involved the use of language?” Check this list with the class.


“Let’s test what language habits have to do with misunderstanding directions.”

1. Ask the pupils to decide among themselves on a very simple command to give you, such as to draw a triangle on the board. Agree very pleasantly and ask whether the pupils are very clear as to what you are to do. Then proceed to devise as many mistakes as you can. You may take a pencil and draw a triangle on the board and ask, “Is this what you mean?” When the pupils protest, comply with their demand for chalk, but draw a triangle too small to be seen, or use zigzag lines, or draw on the border of the board, etc., continually asking, “Is this what you mean?” Continue the game until you feel that the pupils are beginning to show an awareness of how difficult it is to give a simple command.

2. Ask a pupil to explain a game that is new to all of his classmates. Without any further instruction have the class try the game to test how well he gave the directions.

3. “Let’s experiment to find out what we mean by scientific speech and by everyday speech.” Write on the board and ask the pupils to read quickly in unison the signature and a few notes of a song; then have them read science terms and mathematical formulas (100°, H2O, pr2, v = lwh, 60 mph, etc.). When a long list has been compiled and agreement reached that such terms are generally understood, write the words truth, friend, beautiful, and education on the board. Ask the class to respond as before. When they falter or disagree, ask what difference they note between scientific and everyday speech.

4. Have several pupils diagram the following sentences on the board as they have been taught to diagram:

Today is Sunday.

All children hate ice cream.

We speak Chinese.

When the class accepts the diagrams as grammatically correct, ask whether there is any way to diagram the sentences for fact. Point out, “We have used simple statements which we can check for fact, but often we have complex, difficult ideas to evaluate.” Tell them that we have a number of devices in general semantics for testing the reliability and accuracy of statements. Ask the pupils whether they can see how such lessons might prove helpful to them.


1. “Let’s make a list of the expressions that we use to show misunderstandings based on speech.” (I wish I had never said it. So what? I don’t get it. What did you say? etc.)

2. Have the pupils list the questions that are most often asked after an assignment is made. (Do we use ink? The same heading? Do we copy the question? What’s the date? etc.)

3. Ask the students to tell about their experiences in following directions on a trip, or about the difficulties in following a recipe or directions on a work sheet in home mechanics or industrial arts.


A study of our language habits is likely to be well worth our time if it increases our understanding and helps us solve some of our problems.


1. Let pupils report on common quarrels that they have observed at home or in school. Ask for volunteers to dramatize the incidents; then ask them to repeat their dramatization using the same circumstances, but changing their language so that a quarrel may be avoided. Point out the role of language in the conflicts.

2. Ask pairs of pupils to dramatize some of the language habits they have observed: (a) the chronic complainer-people hesitate to say “How are you?” because they will be told at great length; (b) the chronic fault finder-people avoid him because of his complaints. Have the pupils act out changes in these speech habits to show how new speech habits affect attitudes.

Ask the class in the role of the audience whether the actors were convincing. “Did the actors seem really to feel the parts they were portraying? Were they successful in showing what part language had in the incident?”


“Does this lesson mean that if we study general semantics we will be able to solve all our problems and to resolve all our conflicts?”

No. There are physical conditions that we cannot change: loss of loved ones, illnesses, catastrophes, hard times, etc. There are a few people in the world who will not respond to reason or kindness.

However, where language is at fault, we will find that by changing our language habits we can usually increase our understanding and agreements with others.

Lesson 2

Why Do We Study Language Habits?

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

An individual’s use of language is a clue to his personal adjustment, his interpersonal relationships, and his degree of maturity. A study of his language habits should increase self-understanding and promote more effective relationships with others.

Resource Readings

“We are born in and live in a language milieu that is tremendously influential in determining what we believe and how we act. We listen to and take over existing habits of speaking and thinking which profoundly affect our ways of doing things. And if by the vagaries of existence those habits lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and conflict, we become caught in a kind of system from which escape comes only by much effort . . . .

“There remains something even more fundamental—the necessity of knowing how to ‘talk sense,’ of knowing how to use the gift of speech intelligently, of being able to manipulate the language in our own daily living and in our affairs with others so as to avoid the blockages, misevaluations, and cross purposes that seem so much a part of the modern world.” —Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, pp. xiv, xv.

“In short, we have need of methods — simple, teachable, and usable — by which to break through the conventionalized, stiffly resistant, and confusing habits of evaluations.” —Ibid., p. xvi.

“Any attempts to provide a basis for propaganda analysis, ‘good sense,’ ‘clear thinking,’ etc., must first build a fundamental consciousness of and ability to recognize each when it is met.

“Starting here, the student of General Semantics proceeds to set up systematically (1) the characteristics of life facts about which speakers must be aware, (2) the host of language habits which represent those life facts inadequately, and (3) specific, usable, and teachable devices by which to make his language habits produce proper evaluation of what he talks about.” —Ibid., p. xxvi.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

In schools we find many examples of failure to see the relationship between language and actions:

1. Some teachers accept the inarticulate pupil as one who has no problems and, therefore, furnishes no problem because “he is a nice, quiet student.”

2. Some parents and teachers fail to see that the overtalkative pupil may have inner problems.

3. Some teachers are unaware of the real problems implicit in such statements as these overheard in school:

“No teacher could do a good job with such roughnecks. Why try?”

“The classes I receive are never adequately prepared.”

“Children never appreciate what you do for them.”

“Sure, Joan is popular. She has money.”

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. An appreciation of the all-pervasive nature of language in their lives.

2. An awareness of the two-way process of language:

Language affects evaluations.

Evaluations affect language.

3. The habit of delaying action or response until the language involved in a situation has been evaluated.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 2


We think that our language affects our thinking and/or our actions, and that our thinking and/or our actions affect our language. We believe it is a two-way process.

Example.-A person may speak in a grouchy manner if he feels that he has been unfairly treated. After speaking in this manner he may feel ashamed and make an effort to perform some extra kindness, or he may apologize and explain why he was grouchy. This may cause him to speak and act in a happier way. We don’t have to decide which came first, the language or the feelings or the actions; the important thing is to realize how one affects the other.

Example.-Read with the class Helen Keller’s “Everything Has a Name” from The Story of My Life. Discuss.

Example.-Recall with the class the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

How did language affect thinking and acting in these stories? As the pupils analyze each story, draw this simple diagram on the board to illustrate the interrelationship.


1. Ask a pupil to scrape his nail on the board, but stop him from carrying out the act just as soon as the students react. Point out that they were reacting to the words before the act was performed.

2. Ask the students to imagine for a few seconds that they are deaf and that they exist in a world of no words. Then ask them to picture themselves at the last party they attended where everyone tried to speak at once. Point out the difference in their behavior during the two periods, how still and solemn they were during the first period, then how they moved about and changed expression during the second. Did your language affect the pupils’ feeling, thinking, and/or actions?


1. “What device used in crime detection is based on the principle of speech affecting emotions?” (Lie detector) Explain.

2. “How much evidence can this class gather that speech affects thinking and/or actions?” Make three columns and lead with a few examples.

Language affects

Thinking/actions leads to

More Language


change in attitude

more gossip




horror stories



labels (snob)


false reports



good reports


We may understand more about our thinking and our actions if we learn more about our language habits.


1. “According to our findings, would television or radio or telephone affect our study periods?”

2. “According to our study, would a grouchy remark affect the speaker as well as the listener?”

3. “Do you think it could change your thinking or feeling if you called your temper “babyish” rather than “uncontrollable,” your pain “uncomfortable” rather than “unbearable,” your lesson “difficult” rather than “impossible,” etc.? Analyze the differences the words might make in your attitude.”

4. “Can you find in this lesson anything that we might apply to our use of nicknames?”

Lesson 3

How Human Beings Differ from Animals

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

Human beings differ from animals in their ability to draw on the knowledge of the past, to use it in the present, and to transmit it to future generations. The use of language makes this possible.

Human behavior differs from animal behavior when people delay their reactions to stimuli long enough to evaluate the situation in the light of that knowledge.

Resource Readings

“Two types of reaction may now be distinguished: signal reactions, which are undelayed, over-quick, automatic, less observing, impulsive, seeing similarities only, undifferentiating — in short, those which go on the assumption that what is seen is ‘all’ there is to be seen and known; symbol reactions, which are delayed (if for only an instant), taking into account more factors in the situation, going to the present facts rather than to prior-held judgments of them — in short, those which accompany a consciousness of the partial character of acquaintance and attend to differences as well as similarities.

“No matter how it may be explained — as a national ‘speed psychosis,’ or as the result of an attitude that ‘life is short, so we mustn’t delay,’ or because we separate in our talking ‘thought and action’ instead of realizing that they must go together, or in terms of any other theory — the fact remains that we often act automatically in signal fashion without surveying the situation. Here we should argue that such behavior takes us down to animalistic levels. To live up to the potentialities of our nervous systems equipped with organs for discrimination (the cortex above all), we must take time to let them function. We must delay momentarily while we look over the ground, after which we react more appropriately. This does not urge you to dawdle and become inactive, but to stop and look and consider the circumstances before responding. This symbol pattern becomes for us in a complex world a means to sanity and well-adjusted behavior.” —Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, pp. 197, 198.

“... man improves, animals do not; man progresses, animals do not; man invents more and more complicated tools, animals do not; man is a creator of material and spiritual wealth, animals are not; man is a builder of civilization, animals are not.” —Korzybski, Manhood of Humanity, p. 186.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

When people fail to delay for observation and analysis, we are likely to find the following situations:

1. Panic causing injury from failure to delay to analyze.

2. Quarrels due to too hasty words.

3. Mob spirit caused by blind acceptance of situation.

4. Prejudice arising from immediate response to labels.

5. Embarrassment arising from snap judgments.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. An awareness of the need for observation before reaction.

2. The habit of delaying, however briefly, for analysis. If pupils apply their training in this area, the teacher should notice that they make fewer snap judgments and display less tension.

3. An appreciation of the cultural heritage that we benefit from, add to, and hand on to future generations.

4. An awareness of the role of symbols or words in our cultural heritage.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 3


Human behavior differs from that of animals when humans delay their speaking and/or acting long enough to examine and weigh the facts.

Examples.-A dog will rush into a dogfight, but a human being will look for a means of stopping a street fight.

A dog that has been struck by an auto often continues to chase autos; a child learns to stay out of the street.

At mealtime the dog rushes to his pan; the human washes his hands and makes himself presentable.

Allow the pupils to add to these examples until the objection is raised that human beings do not always evaluate before acting. Ask for examples of animalistic behavior on the part of humans. By questions and hints, attempt to draw from the pupils the fact that one difference between humans and animals is that man, through the use of symbols or language, is able to use the knowledge accumulated in the past, to enrich it and to pass it on to succeeding generations.

Examples —Birds make their nests the same year after year, but humans build skyscrapers and heat them according to their needs.

Animals suffer illness and injuries without using scientific cures, but humans have developed medicine and hygiene.

“How was man able to make these improvements?”

If the pupils have an opportunity to visit a natural history museum or see a movie of a paleontology exhibit, let them compare the relative size and strength of the prehistoric animals with that of the early cave man. Ask, “Why do you think the cave man survived when the giant animals did not? How was man able to pass on his learnings?” Point out the pictures on the walls of the caves as examples of early use of symbols.

Explain to the pupils that there are patterns of stupidity and patterns of wisdom in human actions.

A pattern of wisdom follows this order.

A pattern of stupidity skips which step?

Have a pupil diagram the following situations in patterns that are wise, sensible, mature, proper, human; or unwise, silly, animal, babyish; then ask the class which kind of pattern the pupil diagrammed.

1. Pupil hears fire bell signal.

2. Class takes important test.

3. Boy dives into water of unknown depth.

4. Girl tells lie because of fear.

5. Class reacts to substitute teacher.

Ask the class to make two lists of adjectives, one describing human behavior and the other describing animal behavior. Stress the idea that we are describing behavior, not the person who is behaving that way. (Our classes have gleefully compiled a long list for animal behavior: stupid, foolish, ignorant, immature, dumb, etc., but we noticed an appreciable lag in complimentary terms to describe human behavior.) Now point out that finding fault seems to be a failing people have; it is easier to find fault than it is to praise. Ask the pupils to make a special effort to have a long list of favorable adjectives: wise, mature,, smart, intelligent, sensible, etc.


1. Let one popular pupil circulate a petition at recess or before school. The petition should be in the pupil’s handwriting and should contain long, unfamiliar words and involved sentences. Have him give no explanation to his friends — just ask them to sign it and pass it on quickly before “teacher” sees it. Later in the semantics class, ask the pupil to give you the petition. Then proceed to act on it.

One such petition was circulated after a student council election and was addressed to the faculty and principal of our school. It asked that the newly elected officers be replaced with long-eared quadrupeds to be obtained at the neighboring park. Thirty-nine of our forty-two pupils signed. When their request was read to them and explained, they saw that it was more than a joke. It was part of this lesson.

In another class forty out of forty-two pupils signed a petition requesting that the engineer supply a maximum amount of heat and discontinue all fresh-air circulation on an extremely hot day.

We were amused to have our principal tell us that he had delayed long enough to read a petition he was asked to sign for a teachers’ organization as a result of observing what had happened in these two classes.


1. “On what day of the year especially should you remember this lesson?” (April 1)

2. “You have seen movies of sports events, football games, races, etc., run at slow speed and halted at a point where there was some doubt in the spectators’ minds. How does this compare with our pattern of wisdom in human actions?”

3. “There are many stories like the one about the pompous factory owner who was on a tour of inspection when he noticed a boy standing idly by. He quickly turned to the foreman and ordered, ‘Give that fellow a day’s pay and send him on his way.’ It wasn’t until he returned to his office that he learned that the boy was a waiter who had delivered coffee to the men.”

4. “If a person stopped to look at a fortuneteller’s surroundings, do you think he would believe that the fortuneteller could tell all about anything? The astronomers tell us that the only thing that they can foretell from the stars is the date of Easter, and they will be happy to explain how they do it by mathematics.”

“Do you think you can judge a person by his appearance? How about first impressions? Have you found them reliable?”


We should delay to look before acting and/or speaking.


1. Contrast the two kinds of behavior in the following example:




Polly says, “I want a cracker.”

No cracker.

“I want a cracker.”

Jim says, “I want a bike.”

No money —Father’s having difficulty.

“I’ll wait until I can save from my allowance.”

“How might the human copy the animal in the above situation? Can we name some common school or home situations where we react in the animalistic pattern?”

2. “Do you delay to look when you take a bottle from the medicine chest? Why?”

3. Have a pupil dramatize a situation in which a child’s clothing catches fire. Have him act it in two patterns:

a) The child runs screaming.

b) The child smothers the flames by rolling on the ground or using a coat.

“Using the two patterns, can you dramatize another situation in which a boy out walking with his family sees an electric wire that has fallen across the road?”


“Are there times when we believe what we see and do not delay to question?”


Weather forecasts for small sailboats

Western Union clocks

Signs on the front of streetcars

Signs (Poison, Wet Paint, Emergency Exit)

Measures, rulers

Pasteurized milk

Road signs (Dangerous curve, etc.)

Remember.— Many times our safety and well-being depend on our observing quickly and not delaying to question.

Lesson 4

Words Are Not Objects or Feelings or Events

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

Sometimes people confuse a word with the thing for which it stands. A word exists only as a representation of a fact. A word is not the fact to which it refers.

Resource Readings

“A group of synonyms does not define an object. A careful description may help bring it into focus for the listener, but it is not conclusive. Final identification is achieved only by pointing to the apple, touching it with the hand, seeing it with the eyes, tasting it with the mouth, and so recognizing it as non-verbal. Here is the base from which all our proud words rise — every last one of them — and to it they must constantly return and be refreshed. Failing this, they wander into regions where there are no apples, no objects, no acts, and so they become symbols for airy chunks of nothing at all.” —Chase, The Tyranny of Words, p. 39.

“In all civilized societies (and probably in many primitive ones as well), the symbols of piety, of civic virtue, or of patriotism, are often prized above actual piety, civic virtue, or patriotism. In one way or another, we are all like the brilliant student who cheats in his exams in order to make Phi Beta Kappa: it is so much more important to have the symbol than the things it stands for.” —Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, p. 30.

“Words do not exist in objects, situations, feelings, etc. Words can affect human evaluations, but not ‘things.’ Calling a spade a shovel does not change it....

“The basic question: not, What was it called, but What was being so called?” —Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, p. 172.

“We have no intention here of urging that talk be limited to statements which represent what can be found outside-the-skin. Such a prohibition would be impossible even if urged. We are insisting, for proper evaluation, that statements be recognized for what they do represent.” —Ibid., p. 147.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

1. Teachers are familiar with examples of confusing words with non-verbal facts such as:

a) A pupil refuses to let his parents help him with his studies or even teach him correct health habits because he identifies the word “teacher” with his school-teacher.

b) Some parents are satisfied with the word “lazy” to describe a failing child rather than having his eyes, ears, glands, etc., checked.

2.Some people are more impressed by political oratory than by sound ideas.

3. A man goes berserk, shooting strangers on the street, because, “They were trying to get me.”

4. Radio listeners fled after an Orson Welles broadcast of an attack from Mars.

5. An audience allows a magician’s patter to divert its attention from his acts.

6. Some people believe the fake claims for cancer cures, hair-restorers, cures for stuttering, muscle builders, etc.

7. Some people believe in “magic words,” curses, hexes, etc.

8. The history of science gives many examples of scientists being disregarded or persecuted because their findings did not agree with the words of the accepted authorities.

9. Some believe that the Cinderella stories in magazines that always have happy endings are true to life.

10. Some boards of directors appoint a committee to make a report and let that conclude their activities.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. The consciousness that life is lived on two levels: verbal and non-verbal.

2. This attitude: the word is not the fact.

3. The habit of asking, “Do the words fit the facts?” Pupils who are trained to apply this habit should make fewer false identifications. They should know that talking about a situation is not doing something about it; that saying, “I didn’t know,” does not justify mistakes.

4. The habit of asking, “Can I observe the answer to this question for myself?” rather than always rushing to the nearest book or person for the answer.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 4


One cause of some of our misunderstandings may be that we sometimes confuse the word with the thing it stands for; we act as if words were objects or feelings.


1. Ask the students to put a piece of paper on their desks. Ask them to weigh it in their hands, feel the texture, hold it to the light, taste it, and mark it with a pencil. Then have them put the papers away, and ask how much they can do with the word paper. Can they do any of the former acts with the word alone? Do they sense the two levels?

Ask whether we can sit on the word chair, or eat the word lunch. If this seems obvious, ask whether people write checks when they don’t have money in the bank; whether they worry about things that never happen; whether they judge a person’s success by his possessions. Ask them what they think about an honor student who cheats; a student government that does not govern students; an “easy-to-repay” loan. “Are these examples of confusing the word with the thing?”

2. Hold up a book and say, “I have a very good boys’ book, an adventure story. Who would like to read it?” Then hold up another book and say, “Here is an excellent girls’ book. Who wants to read this?” Ask the pupils to raise their hands again for each choice. Ask them how they made their choices. Were they influenced by your calling them boys’ or girls’ books? Did they judge by appearance or knowledge of the book? Did anyone ask to examine the books? Do they think they were reacting to words rather than to the objects?

Have they ever had the experience of missing a good book because they had reacted to words about it rather than examining the book carefully to see whether it was what they wanted?


1. Read “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with the class. Discuss.

2. Tell the story of how a family was saved from worry by a nonexistent bank account in the story Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes.

3. One year our school had a close contest for the presidency of the student council. Ronnie clinched his victory the last day of the campaign by promising more dances, less homework, and more holidays. These promises were all beyond his power to deliver. When it became apparent that Ronnie could not live up to his promises, the students lost confidence in him and refused to follow his leadership. Ronnie had a difficult, unhappy year.

4. The Chicago Daily News printed an article pointing out that several thousand Americans will die during the next year because of their dependence on false knowledge: belief that high-tension wires can be handled with rubber gloves; belief that a handkerchief is a gas mask; belief that the gun was not loaded, etc.


1. “If you knew a small child accused of lying, could you explain this lesson in order to help him? Would you try to explain that words do not always match facts, but it is part of growing up to learn how to make words match the facts?”

2. “Discuss your pet superstition with the class.”

3. “What is done at some fraternity initiations to make the pledges think that words are objects?”

4. “If you have ever checked a rumor or gossip with the facts, tell about it.”

5. “If we call it ‘collecting’ or ‘my hobby’ when we take spoons or towels or other souvenirs when we are traveling, does it change the fact that we are taking something that belongs to someone else?”

6. “Do you suppose that you have ever said, ‘I’m tired,’ or ‘I’m hungry,’ or ‘I have a pain,’ when what you really wanted was attention or someone to show interest in you? The test would be whether you forgot your pain or fatigue when something pleasant came along. Have you ever been ‘too tired’ for homework or dishes but not for a movie?”


Some of our misunderstandings may be due to our confusing words with objects or feelings.


“Does this lesson mean that we must check everything we read or hear with the non-verbal facts?”

“Would we have the time or the means to investigate newspaper reports, to test each article that is advertised, or to find proof for each statement in our textbooks?”

No. We have to take some things for granted to be able to get through the day: that the school will be open on school days, that electricity and water will be furnished for our use, etc., without our phoning or checking. However, we must be prepared to check when the facts do not match our expectations and to alter our opinions when we discover new facts.

Lesson 5

Non-allness — Many Details — Use of Etc.

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

It is impossible for an individual to observe an object from all sides at once because various aspects must be observed in turn. Even if an individual could observe an object from all sides at once, acquaintance would still be partial because microscopic and submicroscopic details, chemical changes, and an object’s relations to everything else would extend the range of observation indefinitely. If this is so, then our language should correspond to that fact and lead us to the knowledge that we cannot say “all” about anything. We observe some details and omit others.

Resource Readings

“What an individual experiences depends upon which specialized structures in his nervous system are stimulated. Note the paper on which this is written. In what ways can an observer have relationships with it? He can see it, touch it, smell it, taste it, lift it, tear it, etc. Each sort of response provides one avenue of acquaintance, because the receptors (the eyes, nostrils, skin, etc.) are so differentiated that each is sensitive only to particular stimuli .... And since none is ‘all-engaging,’ it follows that our acquaintance with the paper through any one nervous means will be specific and partial.”—Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, p. 55.

“If the reader will try to give a ‘complete’ description or a ‘perfect’ definition of any actual physical object, so as to include ‘all’ particulars, he will be convinced that this task is humanly impossible. These would have to describe, not only the numerous rough, macroscopic characteristics, but also the microscopic details, the chemical composition and changes, sub-microscopic characteristics and the endlessly changing relationship of this objective something ...” —Korzybski, Science and Sanity, p. 68.

“Consciousness of abstracting as a habitual reaction will lead directly to attitudes of non-allness ... the new attitudes may be coached into practice by the memory of a simple device which summarizes the fact that details are invariably left out in speaking. A hint of it is found in a statement by William James, that ‘the word “and” trails along after every sentence. Something always escapes ...’. Habitual use of the ETC. silently or orally should dissolve the ‘allness-growths’ by producing consciousness of factors left out. Which suggests a ‘new’ slogan: Remember the ETC. “—Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, p. 63.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

When people think that they have said “all” about something, that there is no more to be said, we are likely to have the following:

1. Discussions end with no agreement reached because of the attitude, “That is all there is to be said on the subject.” (Strikes result when mediation fails in labor disputes.)

2. Prejudice arises from this attitude: “That is all that can be said about a nationality, creed, class, or individual.”

3. Learning is blocked by an attitude of, “I know all about it.” (Modern art, new music, new forms of recreation.)

4. Progress is blocked because of the attitude, “It’s all been tried before.” (Retention of obsolete methods in business and in schools.)

One understanding principal is aware of this kind of misevaluation. She never allows a parent or a child to leave a conference feeling that there is nothing more to be done. She always gives them some specific suggestions; she gives them hope that there is something more to try.

5. Rumor and gossip result because people accept a statement as “all” the story.

6. False impressions result when people accept one cause as the explanation of a complex matter.

Examples.—Cause of war rather than causes

Cause of heavy taxes rather than causes

Cause of a pupil’s failure rather than causes

7. Teachers meet with a misevaluation in this area when dealing with the pupil who oversimplifies the cause of his difficulties by saying, “Teacher doesn’t like me, that’s all.”

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. The consciousness that we abstract some details and omit others.

2. An attitude of “Wait, let’s see — there’s more to be said.”

3. The habitual use of the ETC. silently or orally to produce consciousness of factors left out.

If pupils apply their training in this area they should be more teachable. You should be able to detect a great willingness to investigate and discuss.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 5


We omit many details when we talk. We have a complex universe but only a small vocabulary to describe it.

Explain to the pupils that we have more than 600,000 words in the English language to use in talking about our universe. If this seems like a great number to the pupils, ask them to make a list on the board of what there is in the universe to talk about. Then place the following headings on the board: macroscopic (seen with the naked eye), telescopic, microscopic, submicroscopic, and thoughts, feelings, and relationships.



































It is important for the development of the lesson that you make long lists at the different levels with the pupils. Point out that new observations are constantly being made.

The recognition of the infinite number of facts in the universe and the inadequacy of our language to express these facts was experienced by our pupils. At the Planetarium in Chicago at the end of a talk on the planets and stars, the lecturer flashed on all the lighted stars and planets against a dark background. When the awed gasp went up from the audience, he said solemnly, “World without end, Amen.” The sight of the myriad stars conveyed the feeling of depth, and we sensed the infinity to which the words referred.


1. Ask the pupils to choose one of the simplest objects in the room to talk about. Suggest that a piece of paper or a pencil or pen will do. Tell them we choose something simple because we are going to try to say “all” about it. Ask them how long they think it will take to tell “all.” They will guess ten minutes or twenty minutes or one period. Then say, “We will have to find out for ourselves.”

Write briefly on the board each statement that is made, accept each contribution with encouraging remarks, and ask, “Is that all we can say?” Pupils will open up many topics for discussion. If they choose a pencil, for example, some will talk about wood, others about lead or graphite, others about manufacture or uses. Eventually one pupil will point out that there is no limit to the discussion, that each new topic opens up an entire field for talk. When the pupils accept his viewpoint, ask, “How long do you think we can go on talking?” When they decide that there is no limit to the time they could talk, accept their decision. It may take several class periods before the pupils volunteer their discovery, but if they are allowed to make the conclusion, it will make a lasting impression on them.

“If we couldn’t say all about a simple thing like a pencil, why is it that we are so willing to say all about a nation, the President, or a school?”


1. Read the story on p. 114 to the pupils and discuss how Louis Agassiz trained his science pupils to look for details.

2. “How many books would you guess have been written about Napoleon or about Lincoln?”

3. “Have you ever learned ‘all’ about a school subject?”

4. “Do I, as a teacher with all your tests and records, know ‘all’ about you? Do you think one person can tell ‘all’ about another person?”


You can’t say “all” about anything. There is always an ETC. — there is always more to be said.


1. “Read a camp catalog or a school catalog. Has it answered all your questions or are there others you can ask?”

2. Let one pupil report on the last class movie or excursion. Others may add to the report. “Could more be said?”

3. “Were you satisfied that our last school newspaper told all the news of the school? Should we try to report all the news?”.

4. “If you have a particular fear or worry about some situation that you think you know ‘all’ about, check with the class to see whether there is more to be said or learned.”

5. “Can you think of a traveler who returned after a brief visit to another place and tried to tell ‘all’ about it? How did you feel?”

6. “When would you say a person has completed his education?”

7. “Name as many kinds of maps as you can.” (Relief, rainfall, historical, political, etc.) “If you could study all these, would you know ‘all’ about a country? What else might you say?”


“Does this lesson mean that if we can’t know all about something, we shouldn’t act or come to decisions?”

No. We act on the best knowledge we have, but we must be aware that there is always more to be learned or more to be added to what we have. We have to know when to stop talking and to begin acting.

Lesson 6

How We Select Details

Presentation to Pupils

NOTE: The Teacher Summary is omitted because this lesson is so closely connected with the preceding one.


Since we cannot get “all” the details of anything, we select some details and neglect others.

Remind the pupils that when we tried to say everything about a pencil, we demonstrated that we could go on talking indefinitely. Some pupils choose to talk about the wood; some, about the lead or graphite; some, about the paint or colors; others, about the eraser and rubber. Some talked about the manufacture; others, about the uses. “Let’s go back and check who said what to see whether we can account for the person’s choice of the details he selects to talk about.” (Interests, knowledge, alertness, background, etc.)


1. At the beginning of the lesson, before the theory is stated, send two pupils to the office on an errand. When they return, ask one pupil to leave the room while the other one tells all the details about the office that he can remember. Then call in the second pupil to give his list of details. Let the class comment on the difference in the two lists.

2. Ask pupils to close their eyes and test themselves on how many details of their desks they can describe by using other senses. Then have them cover their ears and list how many details of the room they can detect. Let them change seats to see whether they add details from a new position. Ask what influenced their choice of details.

3. Have the pupils compare the material selected by a primary class for the school newspaper with the material chosen by the upper grades. What influenced the choices of each class?

4. Have the pupils open their books to a picture with many details, then close the books and report the details they noticed. Point out differences in selections.


1. Read the poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant” to the class. Discuss the poem as an example of people selecting different details.

2. Have the pupils examine a school art exhibit in which the artists have all used one subject. “Why are pictures different if the artists were portraying the same subject?”

3. Children sometimes give an account of classroom happenings that bear little resemblance to the actual occurrence. Ask your pupils if they have told something about their classroom, omitting important details, that has caused a misunderstanding between parents and teachers.


The details a speaker selects tell something about the speaker as well as about what he is describing.


1. Have two or three pupils dramatize selecting the details that they would use in the following situations:

a) Visiting a sick friend.

b) Applying, for a job.

c) Telling your mother about why you were reported, etc.

2. “You may have postponed writing a letter because you thought there was too little to say. Was that your problem or was it a matter of selecting details to write about?”

3. Ask the pupils to name great inventions, great works of art, and great social services. List these on the board. When the pupils seem to sense that these lists could be continued indefinitely, ask them whether there is always an ETC. in contributions to human progress. Ask the pupils whether they think their contributions may have value because they may see things from a new or different angle.

Lesson 7

Kinds of Statements — Factual and Inferential

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

There is a difference between statements that represent what can be observed and those that represent what is only inferred. A speaker should be aware of the difference between speaking inferentially and speaking factually.

Resource Readings

Irving Lee teaches his students that structurally and grammatically there is no difference between a factual and an inferential statement. But these differences can be noted:





Can be made after some observation

Can be made any time


Stays within what can be observed

Goes beyond what can be observed


Can be made in limited number

Can be made in unlimited number


Provides closest approach to certainty

Shows some degree of probability

“An inference, as we shall use the term, is a statement about the unknown made on the basis of the known. We may infer from the handsomeness of a woman’s clothes her wealth or social position; we may infer from the character of the ruins the origin of the fire that destroyed the building; we may infer from a man’s calloused hands the nature of his occupation; we may infer from a senator’s vote on an armaments bill his attitude toward Russia; ... Inferences may be carelessly or carefully made. They may be made on the basis of a great background of previous experience with the subject-matter, or no experience at all. For example, the inferences a good mechanic can make about the internal condition of a motor by listening to it are often startlingly accurate, while the inferences made by an amateur (if he tries to make any) may be entirely wrong. But the common characteristic of inferences is that they are statements about matters which are not directly known, made on the basis of what has been observed. “—Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, p. 41.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

When people are not aware of the difference between factual and inferential statements, we are likely to have problems such as the following:

1. Lawyers sometimes have trouble holding witnesses to factual testimony.

2. Housing programs are often blocked by inferences that races will fight.

3. Diabetics are often arrested for drunkenness.

4. Labor and management problems often remain unsolved when they are discussed in inferential rather than factual terms.

The following examples show how going beyond facts to inferences and then to judgments may lead to some common misevaluations.

Fact — Johnny is late for school this morning.

Inference — I suppose he overslept.

Judgment — He thinks he can get away with anything. He is careless and so is his whole family.

An investigation might reveal that Johnny had stopped to assist a patrol boy or was sent on an errand by a teacher.

Fact — There is quite a bit of whispering going on in this class.

Inference — They are bored and don’t have enough work.

Judgment — They need more drill and busy work.

This actually happened. The pupils were whispering about a program they had prepared as a surprise for their teacher.

Fact — Jerry wouldn’t take a dare at recess time to hitch a ride on a truck.

Inference — He is afraid to do things.

Judgment — We don’t want a sissy on our team.

Jerry isn’t afraid to be a patrol boy standing out in heavy traffic in all kinds of weather to help younger children.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. Recognition that factual statements differ from inferential statements.

2. A sense of the difficulty involved in making an accurate statement.

3. Awareness of the danger of leaping from facts to inferences.

Pupils who apply their training in this area should be aware when they make inferences and consequently have fewer confusions and misunderstandings.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 7

NOTE: In this lesson the pupils perform a number of experiments before the theory is stated.


1. Ask the pupils to volunteer statements about the school, office, or library using only factual statements. After each statement, ask, “Is that a fact?” until the pupils begin to challenge inferential statements. Point out to the class how small a number of statements they accepted as fact. Ask why they accepted certain statements as factual and rejected others. Point out that they were able to verify by observation the factual statements and to reach an agreement on them.

2. Which is bigger?

Cut out large cardboard cards according to the pattern above. Place these cards side-by-side. Ask the pupils to make a statement about the size of these cards. Change the position of the cards, placing the right-hand card to the left. Ask which is larger. Allow the pupils to place one card on top of the other to compare size. Point out to the pupils that there are many examples of optical illusions (blades of fan in motion, size of people in perspective).

3. Ask to borrow a pupil’s wristwatch. Then ask the pupil how long he has had it and about how many times he thinks he has looked at it. Has he looked at it during the last hour? Ask the pupil to sketch it on the board and to show whether the numerals are Roman or Arabic or just lines. “How are the hands placed? Is there a second hand?”

If his classmates are amused at his uncertainty, ask the entire class to answer questions about the room clock without looking at it. “Can we always say something is a fact because we have seen it?”


If we state our inferences as if we were making statements of fact, we are likely to have trouble.

Example.—Frequently a child’s pet dog will follow his owner to school. After the dog has played with many of the children on the playground, but has not found his master, he will become excited, tearing around, barking, and leaping on small children. The children scream and run, which disturbs the dog still more. Usually someone comes into the office and reports “mad dog” and asks for a policeman. Sometimes pupils who know about the Anti-Cruelty Society coax the dog into an empty room and wait until the Society sends an expert to care for the dog, but one time we saw a policeman shoot a dog that had been reported “mad.”

“We can make a statement of fact about how the dog acted, but can we make a statement of fact about why he acted as he did? Can we make an inference? When we talk about a person’s behavior, can we make a statement of fact about why he does something?”

“Can we make statements of fact about the following?”

1. “The fire bell rings. Can we say whether it is for a fire drill or for a real fire?”

2. “The teacher is not in the classroom. Will our statements about why she is not there involve guesses, opinions, inferences, assumptions, and beliefs?”

3. “Parents have to spend a great deal of time with a new baby. Can we say that they love the baby more than the older child? What are the facts?” Discuss this fully. It is important to many children.

“Since we find it so difficult to make a statement of fact about familiar things, how can we be so ready to make statements about Labor, the President, capitalists, or people of another country?”


1. “What. is the purpose of organizations such as Consumers’ Research?”

2. “What is the purpose of the Pure Food and Drug Laws?”

3. Ask a pupil to make statements about the percent of the class that was tardy or is absent. Then figure the percentage and determine how close the statements are to fact.

Example. —Fifty per cent of our pupils are tardy.” Then count the day’s tardiness and find the percent of the total membership. How close to fact was the statement?


We should know the difference between a statement of fact and a statement of inference.


1. Dramatize a quarrel at home over the use of the telephone, using statements of opinion. Change your dialogue so that statements of fact are used.

Example.—Brother: “She has been on the phone all evening.”

Brother: “She has been talking twenty minutes.”

“If the family limits itself to factual statements, what happens to the quarrel?”

2. “Why do pupils accuse others of cheating?”

3. Ask the pupils to look through a newspaper and then report on how they would classify various features as factual or inferential (opinion).

4. “We can point out that we know that we are making inferences or stating opinions by adding the words ‘it seems to me,’ or ‘it appears to me.”‘ Try adding such qualifying words to the following statements:

a) Spanish is the best elective for high school.

b) Our class is the smartest in the grade.

c) Our student council is not representing us.

5. “Do you think you might have fewer arguments if you were not so positive in stating your opinion?”


“Do you think this lesson means that we should not believe anything we hear, or that we should not repeat anything we have heard?”

No. We must listen to reports in order to learn about people and our environment, and we must pass on our information to others; but we must be prepared to distinguish between fact and inference.

Lesson 8

How We Use This New Learning

Caution Your Students

At this time you may find it profitable to spend an entire period in discussion. Sometimes the students become so enthusiastic about displaying their acquaintance with semantic principles and applications that you will feel the need to remind them that one of the purposes of this study is to promote better human relations through more effective speech. If they make a practice of correcting parents, teachers, or other adults, they are likely to have more misunderstandings rather than fewer. Remind the pupils that they have found that people usually resent having their grammatical errors pointed out, and that people are just as likely to resent correction of their semantic errors.

Tell the pupils that if they apply their knowledge to their own thinking and actions, we shall consider that they have really learned something worthwhile. They may be able to influence others indirectly by their evaluations, actions, and speech. One person’s ability to delay judgment or to speak factually may be enough to influence or change an entire situation.

One person has been known to stop a mob from a lynching.

One person has been known to quell panic.

One pupil has been able to change the attitude of a class toward a newcomer.

One or two enthusiastic pupils can put over a drive or a collection.

Remember.—Do not correct others.

“If you feel that you must change someone who is speaking in an arrogant or prejudiced manner, experiment with asking that person a few questions, but be sure they are not ‘smarty’ questions. Ask your questions in an inquiring tone of voice, not in an argumentative way. Note your results, and report to the class which type of question you found most effective.”

Lesson 9


Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

If we forget that statements tell something about the speaker we are likely to have misunderstandings.

Resource Readings

“Something happens, something is seen or heard or remembered, which produces effects on the nervous system of a human being. Something happens inside-his-skin. His talk then takes account of and represents it. ... From long association we can tell (though not always accurately) a cry of grief from the shout of delight. A shriek of victory conveys something different from the harsh tone of indignation.” —Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, p. 145.

“Though we can distinguish in analysis between statements which point to objects, people, and happenings in the outside-of-the-skin-world and those which point to reactions inside-the-skin, the language habits of men in action do not make such clear distinctions. ...

“We have no intention here of urging that talk be limited to statements which represent what can be found outside-the-skin. Such a prohibition would be impossible even if urged. We are insisting, for proper evaluation, that statements be recognized for what they do represent.” —Ibid., p. 147.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

Misunderstandings sometimes result when people fail to consider that statements can also tell something about the speaker. For example:

1. The parent who says, “Johnny must be obedient and trustworthy in school. I find him that way at home,” may be projecting his own standards of judgment.

2. The child who says to a smaller child, “If you don’t give me that toy, I’ll call a policeman, and he will lock you up,” may be reacting against authoritarian treatment at home.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. An awareness that every statement is filtered through the nervous system of the speaker.

2. The habit of looking at the speaker behind the statement.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 9


Misunderstandings arise when we project our feelings to others. We are projecting our feelings when we speak and/or act as if the feelings inside us were the things in the outside world.

Examples.—A person may say, “We had an excellent lunch.” He is telling you something about his appetite and his tastes and feelings, but he may well be telling very little about the lunch. Other people may have disliked it, or the speaker may not enjoy a similar lunch another time.

When we slam the dishes because we hate to wash them, we are projecting our feeling of anger to the dishes.


1. Ask the pupils to put drops of ink on a piece of paper, fold the paper, and press the two sides together. Let them report what kind of pictures they can see in the blots, or have them write a brief statement about the blot. Count how many said, “My picture is a dog, or hat, or woman.” Point out that they have projected what they saw to the blot. Other pupils may say, “It seems to me to be....” Show that they are aware that the seeing is an inside-the-skin process.

2. Ask five volunteers to help with an experiment. Send four of the five volunteers out of the room. Show the remainder of the class the picture given below or one that is equally ambiguous. (A film or a slide may be made of the picture and projected on the front wall of the room.) Station the first volunteer in front of the room and ask him to study the picture very carefully because he is going to have to repeat to the next pupil as many details of the picture as he can remember. After two minutes ask the first pupil to turn away from the picture and tell as many details as he can remember to the second pupil who has been called in but not allowed to see the picture. Caution the second pupil to listen carefully because he too will have to repeat the list to the next volunteer who is called in. It may be necessary to warn the class to curb their exclamations and laughter since they will be watching the picture and will be amused to hear the changes made as the descriptions are relayed from pupil to pupil. When the last volunteer has heard the details, ask him to go to the board and make a simple diagram locating the objects and people as he understood the description.

Let the class discuss what happened to the story as it passed from person to person. Have them review the telling to discover where some details were omitted or added. Ask the pupils what statements of fact can be made about the picture. Since the picture is purposely ambiguous, they find that few statements of fact can be made. Point out that they must say “It seems to me” because their impressions are inside them.


1. “We may have heard someone say when a motorist honked a horn behind him at a stop light, ‘Let him wait; if he thinks he can hurry me, he had better guess again,’ or else, ‘Some young punk is in a hurry.’ I know a woman who does not feel angry or impatient in this situation because once she had to rush an injured child to the hospital. As there was no police escort, a passenger beside her had to keep his hand on the horn as she went through stoplights and traffic. Since then she thinks, ‘I don’t know why they are in a hurry; so I won’t make a fuss about it.”

2. Have the class make a list of familiar situations where they project their feelings to outside objects or people.

a) Throwing alarm clock when it rings

b) Saying, “This is my lucky day.”

c) Saying, “If she thinks she can fool me ....”

d) Saying, “He didn’t speak; he must be angry.”

“When your teacher says, ‘It’s a lovely morning,’ do you think that she is in a good mood, or that she is giving a weather report?”

3. “Tell about an experience you had when someone refused to accept your explanation of your behavior because he projected his reason.”

4. “We have heard ‘famous last words’ that lead to trouble; let’s list some well-known first words that we think show projection which can cause trouble.”

a) You did it just for meanness.

b)You don’t care what happens to me.

c) I know she doesn’t like me.

d) You just want to get your way.

e) They won’t mind waiting.

f) I don’t dare go home with this report card.

Dramatize some of these situations showing how wrong the people could be when they projected their own feelings to others.


Our impressions are in us and are not always to be found in the life facts.


1. “What is a prejudiced person doing when he defends snubbing someone by saying, ‘Let them stay by themselves; they are much happier with their own kind’?”

2. “Has projecting your own feeling of not being wanted ever kept you from joining a group? How?”

3. “If you are nervous about reciting in class, ask yourself what you fear. Are you afraid of your classmates, or are you afraid of your own fear symptoms? Are you afraid that you may stammer, shake, blush, or forget? These are unpleasant, uncomfortable symptoms, but if you are willing to endure them, perhaps you can overcome them. Start with a few brief remarks and endure your symptoms. After you have had some successful experiences, ask yourself whether you had been projecting the fear inside you to a class situation.”

4. “Has anyone a fear inside-his-skin that he has projected to some harmless insect, reptile, storm, or situation? Can anyone describe his experiences in overcoming such a fear?”


“Does this lesson mean that we never try to put ourselves in another’s place; that we are interested only in our own thoughts and feelings?”

No. We are mature and civilized in the degree that we can feel sympathy. The Golden Rule is based on our ability to feel for another person. What we must be careful not to project are feelings of fear, suspicion, and hatred.

Lesson 10

The Many Uses of a Word

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

The fact that a limited number of words must serve to cover an unlimited number of “things” leads to confusion and misunderstanding. There is no such thing as the real sense of a word. There is only the sense in which the word is used.

Resource Readings

“Even though the English tongue, for example, contains many thousands of words and many of these have more than one recognized dictionary meaning, yet we are far from having one word for each fact. Each word, and even each dictionary meaning of each word, must do heavy duty, representing a great number and variety of facts.

“... A rather large share of our misunderstandings and disagreements arises not so much because we are constitutionally stupid or stubborn, but simply because we have to use the same words to refer to so many different things.” —Johnson, People in Quandaries, p. 115.

“If we can get deeply into our consciousness the principle that no word ever has the same meaning twice, we will develop the habit of automatically examining contexts, and this enables us to understand better what others are saying. As it is, however, we are all too likely, when a word sounds familiar, to assume that we understand it even when we don’t. In this way we read into people’s remarks meanings that were never intended.” —Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, p. 63.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

When people forget that a word has many uses, we are likely to have the following misunderstandings:

1. Mistakes are made in carrying out directions or keeping appointments.

2. A person may be insulted when he assumes that a word was used in a derogatory way.

3. People may fail to agree on objectives because they are not using the same words in the same ways when discussing their objectives.

4. A pupil may fail to understand an entire lesson because of mistaking a word or two in the explanation.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. An awareness that any word may have a whole list of uses.

2. An awareness that what is being said may not represent what they assume it does.

3. The habit of direct questioning to find the use of a word or phrase.

Pupils who apply their training in this area should ask more questions to find out exactly what a speaker means and, consequently, make fewer false assumptions.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 10


A word may be used in so many ways that misunderstandings arise when speaker and listener each assumes that he knows how it is used.

Example. —Teachers and pupils may disagree on what is a “quiet” room. Children and parents may disagree on what is an “early” return from a party.


1. Play a game with the pupils. Ask them to give you the key you are thinking about. Refuse to accept the door key, saying, “That isn’t the key I want.” Let the pupils guess: Key signature of a song? Key answers to arithmetic problems? Another common word you might use is table: Table of interest? Table — furniture? Table — a motion? Table — multiplication? Table of contents?

2. “There are as many as 600 uses for some common verbs. Let’s list some uses for break.” (Write them on the board. Windbreak, break the news, breakfast, etc.) “Now let’s list different uses for run.” (Run on the bank, mine run, run in nylons, run a test, etc.)

“If there are so many uses of these words, can you see why we might have trouble with words like patriotism, truth, liberty, etc.?”

3. “Some report cards list qualities of character, such as dependability, co-operation, initiative, and self-control. List these words on a sheet of paper. Then make three columns. Write what you think these words mean in the first column, what your parents think they mean in the second, and what your teacher thinks they mean in the third. How do you know what your parents and teachers mean by the words? How well do your three columns agree?”


1. “When photographers began taking pictures of Anthony Eden during a speech, he raised his hand, said, ‘Don’t shoot, please.’ Next day the German radio reported that, ‘An attempt was made on the life of Mr. Eden, English War Minister, yesterday.’” (Life, February 10, 1941, p. 26)

2. X is the Roman notation for ten
  X is the mark of illiterate men
  X is a ruler removed from the throne
  X is a quantity wholly unknown
  X may mean Xenon, a furious gas
  X is a ray of a similar class

Xmas is Christmas, a season of bliss

  X in a letter is good for a kiss
  X is for Xerxes, a monarch renowned
  X marks the spot where the body was found.[1]

3. Let the class dramatize misunderstandings in this area. Let pupils do the planning in pairs and then present an act to show the class how the word they chose was used differently by each one of the actors.

Examples. —One boy says, “Look out.” The other boy pokes his head out in the aisle and is bumped because he didn’t take the words for a warning.

A girl says, “I wish I had a date.” Her boy friend says, “I’ll bring you a box tomorrow.”

Teacher says, “We’ll do the problems on page 20 too.” The class does the problems on page 22.

Mother says, “I need some new glasses.” Her daughter buys a dozen water glasses for a present. What Mother meant was new eyeglasses.


Any word may have many uses. We should study and ask direct questions to learn how a word is used.


1. “Look up words in the dictionary such as crop, cross, and crown. How many definitions do you find? Can the dictionary tell you what the word ‘is’? Or can it tell you how the word may be used? Could the dictionary tell you how a speaker used the word?”

2. “Could a dictionary be classed as a history book?” (It’s a history of how people have used words.)

3. “How many words can we find in comparing several newspapers to show how differently people use words? What about these: progressive or radical, politician or statesman, home or residence, plot or plan, inspector or snooper, aid or charity, brass or officers, propaganda or information?”


“How exact must we be in our use of words?”

If you find that the pupils are demanding an exaggerated degree of correctness in speech and in readings, this would be the time to discuss the fact that metaphors do not cause misunderstandings. We are correct in using metaphors because other people understand us when we do use them.

Examples.—I’m starving; I’ll run downtown; star of the play; take a streetcar; sheets of rain; I’m dead tired; my feet are killing me; I’m on top of the world, etc.

A reading, lesson in which the pupils find examples of metaphors in poetry will point this up.

Lesson 11

Seeing Differences — Use of the Index

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

We have noticed many similarities in the people and objects with which we are familiar. However, if our language implies that there is identity or sameness between two people or between two objects, it fails to correspond to the world about us.

Resource Readings

“In this world ‘complete sameness’ between any two of anything has not yet been demonstrated, for in some respects objects and happenings differ from each other. And the closer to nature we are able to get, the more apparent does this structural fact become.

“When the fact of difference has been understood, we should be ready for another — that each item of our acquaintance, each object and happening will appear unique, differing in some details from every other one.” —Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, pp. 88, 89.

“... everything we can see, touch, that is to say, all lower order abstractions represent absolute individuals, different from everything else.” —Korzybski, Science and Sanity, p. 262.

“As we have said before, a fact occurs but once. This is a way of stating that no two things are exactly alike and no one thing remains exactly the same. It is a way of expressing the process character of reality. Thus, the structure of reality shows a practically infinite degree of differentiation.” —Johnson, People in Quandaries, pp. 114, 115.

“When you studied algebra you learned to deal with such symbols as x1 x2 and the like. The numbers were called subscripts, meaning that they were written under the x. These subscripts are indexes, or index numbers. They are not merely something thought up by some mathematician in a fit of whimsy. They are very useful to the mathematician whenever he wishes to remind you, and himself, that x is a variable term — that is to say, x can be used to represent any number whatever. Thus, at one time it may be used to represent 9, or at another time 118, etc. In other words, x1 is not x2.

“Now, after all, x is like any ordinary word. The word house, for example, is a variable term. It can be used to refer to my house, or to your house, or to any one of all the possible buildings one might want to talk about. And house1, is not house2....

“Other common forms of the index device are to be seen in the social security numbers, automobile license numbers, the elaborate system of numbers used in cataloguing books in public libraries, the numerals worn on the backs of football players — anyone can recall a great number of other examples....

“It is astonishing that we have applied this ingenious device to almost everything except our language. In general semantics we apply it to that, too. If we can say house1, house2, etc., we can say man1, man2, etc., or love1, love2, etc. We can use indexes with any word whatever.” —Ibid., pp. 211, 212.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

When people fail to recognize the fact of difference, we find misevaluations such as the following:

1. A visit to the dentist is avoided, even for a check up.

2. There is the assumption that an only child is spoiled.

3. There is a refusal to try new recreation or foods because of a former disappointment.

4. People are disliked who have the same name as or a resemblance to someone with whom there is an unpleasant association.

5. There is prejudice against a group because of a few experiences with others of the same group.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. An awareness of the uniqueness of each thing that exists.

2. A preparedness for differences at any time.

3. A realization that failure to recognize difference leads to prejudice.

4. The habitual use of the index to make language fit the fact of difference.

Pupils who apply training in this area will display fewer prejudices in their everyday contacts.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 11


No two of anything have ever been found identical, that is, alike in all respects.

Example.—Challenge the pupils to produce examples of complete identity. The pupils will probably list identical twins, or some manufactured articles that appear alike to them. Refrain from pointing out differences in these examples and appear to be considering them so that the pupils will take over the task of finding differences. The pupils usually refer to their background readings in science to produce examples. Many class periods are needed for this pupil-centered discussion; in fact, in each class we have had a few pupils who remained hopeful of finding an example that would convince the class that there were instances of identity. They continued the search and reported examples months later. We never gave a verdict; we just kept the discussion open.


1. At the beginning of the second or third class period on this lesson, without mentioning the theory, pretend to read a message from the office asking you to make a poster or calendar picture. Ask the pupils to help in planning the picture you are to make. Tell them that you want a realistic picture that will be appealing to young people their age — a picture of a cowboy. Then say that you will ask a series of questions about the cowboy, questions that you want them to answer quickly and in unison:

What is he riding?

Is he tall or short?

What is he wearing on his hip?

Has he one or two guns?

Are his legs straight or bowed?

What is tied around his neck?

Is his hat small or large?

Is his complexion light or tanned?

Does he speak rapidly or does he drawl?

What is on the heel of his boots?

Accept each one-word answer as it is snapped out, and thank the class for its help. Tell them that you know how to make the picture now, but that you are curious about where they have seen this cowboy that they all seem to know so well. Have they ever seen him in the neighborhood or going down the street? If not, how are they so sure about him? The pupils usually answer that movies or television have furnished their ideas. Ask whether they have ever seen any of the cowboys that come in to the stockyards with shipments of cattle. If any of the pupils have, or have seen cowboys at work when they visited ranches in the West, ask whether the real-life cowboy corresponded to their picture; check the details with the pupils.

2. Ask the pupils whether they think that they can give another rapid description, this time of a butler:

Is he American or English?

Is he old or young?

Does he wear jeans or striped trousers?

Is he tall or short?

Does he look haughty or friendly?

One of our classes snapped out the answers to the questions about a butler, and then we discovered that only one little girl had ever seen or known a butler. We asked her to check our picture of an elderly, tall, haughty English butler. She said her aunt lived in California and had a butler, but he was a friendly young man who wore jeans and a sport shirt and was just as American as her family.

3. The class may develop a stereotype of a boy going fishing:

Does he wear shoes or is he barefoot?

What is over his shoulder?

What is walking beside him?

What is on the back of his head?

What is he carrying in his hand?

What kind of trousers is he wearing?

Is his skin clear or freckled?

Ask whether this boy has been seen in the neighborhood, perhaps walking down the street to go fishing. Point out that they have had fun developing what is called a stereotype and that these cases are amusing, but that we are likely to have difficulties if we make a habit of thinking in a stereotyped fashion about people we do not know. We are ignoring differences in people when we think about capitalists, or adults, or Frenchmen, or Indians, or policemen, or anyone in this way.

4. “There is a useful device for showing that we are aware of differences; it is called the Index. We use indexes everyday to note differences — numbered seats in the assembly hall, room numbers, telephone numbers, house numbers, etc. We have used the indexes in the back of our books to find certain selections that we want; perhaps we can use an index to find the differences in people or things. It should help us to remember that person1 is not person2 or person3. You know that teen-ager1 is different from teen-ager2, but some older people ignore the differences and speak merely of teen-agers. Can you see how the use of the index would help to prevent prejudice?”

“Let’s use the index for teen-ager. What teen-ager do we mean?”

“Does it help your thinking to index?”

“Now let’s use the index for one person with the name of George. There are a lot of boys with the name of George, and sometimes we forget to say which George we are talking about. Which George do we mean?”

“If we are talking about George, does it make a difference in our talking if we index?”

“How does using the index for teen-ager and George affect your thinking? Does using the index help you to see differences in people?”


1. “What school subjects contain a need for knowing how to index?”


— people, countries

History —causes of wars, civilization
Spelling — rules and exceptions


—kinds of problems


—many different kinds of reading
Careers —many different choices of occupations


—many different media for expression
2. “Can you see a need for using the index on the playground?” (Games, playground equipment, leaders, etc.)


We should speak and act as if there were differences as well as similarities in people, objects, and events.


1. “Do we have a stereotyped picture of the typical American family, the ideal husband or wife, a model home? Can we point out identical life situations or people, or do they differ in some respects? Are we likely to be disappointed if we expect life to correspond to our movie or television pictures?”

2. “List as many careers as you can that are based on the ability to discern differences.” (Teataster, piano tuner, proofreader, art dealer, diagnostician, etc.)

3. “If we agree that things and people are different, should we spend so much time trying to be like others?” (Movie stars, dress fads, speech, etc.)

4. “Why is the Primary Mental Abilities test a better picture of your abilities than the old I.Q.?”

5. “Discuss the class treatment of teacher substitutes, applying what we have learned about differences.”

6. “Do you ever start an explanation for some misunderstanding of yours with the words, ‘I just took it for granted that ...’?” Let the class give examples of taking something for granted and ignoring the differences in situations. Discuss these examples.

7. “Are you justified in feeling annoyed when parents or teachers compare you with your sister or brother? Should they expect many differences?”

8. “Are you unfair in comparing one teacher with another and in demanding no differences from your favorite?”


“Does this lesson mean that we look for differences in people and events and ignore the likeness?”

No. When we are learning about people and events, it is necessary to group them for study, but we must remember that the differences are there.

Lesson 12

A World In Process — Things Change — Use of Date

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

We have observed evidence that we live in a world of constant motion and change at all levels. If our language habits imply that we live in a static world where there is enduring matter, our speech will not correspond to the moving, changing world about us.

Resource Readings

“At the heart of the analysis of the atom in modern physics is the sense of a perpetual, energetic ‘mad dance’; a hurrying, oscillating, vibrating existence at submicroscopic levels. Thus, our primitive atomistic view of a dead, indestructible, solid ‘matter’ must be replaced by a view which emphasizes the process character of the world. If, below the ordinary macroscopic and microscopic levels of sense perception, there exists a level of motion and high velocity, we believe in a delusion when we view the world about as static and enduring ‘matter.’ We must ‘see’ it, also, as at its deeper levels, a very lively world in process.

“On occasion students are disturbed by such pictures of the nature of the world at deeper levels. Belief is at first not easy, for the hard chair or table does seem at ‘rest.’ But a host of everyday experiences should have made them conscious of phenomena that are not seen, such as voltage in wires, radio waves, chemicals in solution, the rusting of iron, the tarnishing of silver, the fading of colors, etc. Even the process of aging suggests that something is happening which our senses and rough instruments of acquaintance do not register. The chair, if left untouched and unused long enough, will crumble and disappear.” —Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, pp. 73, 74.

“The systematic and habitual use of the simple device of dating statements would have far-reaching effects.

“The immediate result would be to make clear the specific area in which one speaks. The France of 1941 is not the France of 1937 .... The apple on the tree is not the cut apple on the table a month later. The boy sent to reform school is not the same boy on his release a year later.” —Ibid., p. 77.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

When people fail to take the fact of change into consideration, we are likely to find the following situations:

1. Labels stick — coward, failure, delinquent.

2. Old grudges stay alive.

3. Maturity is lacking — voting straight ticket, sentimental attachments, nostalgia, childish fears.

4. Discouragement and despair are common because of inability to believe in a change in a bad situation.

Teachers are familiar with the need to recognize the possibilities of change when they estimate the abilities and attitudes of pupils. The “nonreader” of third grade may become a capable reader in fifth grade. The problem child of one class may become the outstanding pupil of another class.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. An awareness of change and process at all levels of life.

2. The habit of dating in speech — locating an event or person in time.

If pupils apply their training in this area, they should display more self-confidence, adjust to new situations more easily, and not be without hope in adverse situations.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 12


If things in this world are constantly changing, we should show our awareness by dating our statements.

Examples.— Growing things, changing colors, aging, rusting, clouds, waves, winds, fashions, etc.

Tell the pupils that this is not a new idea. More than 2,000 years ago Heraclitus said, “You can’t walk through the same stream twice.” Ask the pupils what they think he meant by this statement.

“Will the chair or table change if left untouched long enough?”

“Is the United States of 1950 the same United States of 1850 or of 1949? Indians of 1800, Indians of 1900? Schools of 1850, schools of 1950?”

Challenge the class to name something that does not change. As pupils produce examples, do not reject them. Allow the pupils to continue discussing the examples given until they are satisfied that there is change and that there is a need to recognize change.

“Then, if things change, should our reactions to them change?”


1. “Tom took a fountain pen when he was in fifth grade. Now, in eighth grade, Tom is suspected whenever anything is missing, although there is no evidence that he has taken anything since. Let’s see how putting a date on the happening influences us.” Sketch the following drawing on the board.

“Does adding the date do anything to our reactions?”

2. Let the pupils make similar diagrams with new reactions for the following:

a) The person who holds a grudge because, “She insulted me.”

b) The boy who says, “I didn’t learn fractions in fifth grade.”

c) The pupils who say, “We didn’t like history in sixth grade.”

d) The class that says, “She failed last year.”

e) The teacher who says, “He was rude last week.”

f) The child who says, “My father was out of work last month.”


1. “Do you know of nationality or race groups in your city? Can you name any landmarks — churches, statues, buildings — that show that there were changes of nationalities or races in these communities? Does this lead you to expect more changes in your community?”

2. “A great king asked his sages to produce a saying that would be suitable for all occasions and, after a long search, they came to him with this one — ‘And this too shall pass.’ What does it mean?”

3. “Why do you suppose encyclopedias are edited and revised every few years?”


We should date our statements, at least in our thinking.


1. The student who is conscious of change should locate people or things in time and space when making a report.

2. Have the pupils check articles from the newspaper to find out if they tell







“Experiment with leaving out one of the foregoing at a time and see what happens. Can you have somebody, somewhere, at no time?” etc. “A good reporter tells when.”

3. “How many physically handicapped people can you name who have adjusted to their changed condition?”

4. “Why do we dislike moody people? Moods reflect our feelings; everyone has moods. We can’t help having them, but we should let our judgment and our consideration for others, not our moods, guide our actions. What sometimes happens when we let moods guide our actions?”

5. “What should we remember from this lesson the next time we feel depressed?”


“Does this lesson mean that we can’t count on the future? Does it mean that it is useless to plan for the future because everything will change?”

No. There will be changes, but they may occur very slowly. We plan and work for the future, but we must be aware that changes may alter our plans.

Lesson 13

Words Are Like Maps

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

If our verbal maps do not correspond to the facts they are supposed to represent, we are likely to have misunderstandings and disappointments.

Resource Readings

“The human being, like any other creature, begins to make his acquaintance with the extensional world from infancy. Unlike other creatures, however, he begins to receive, as soon as he can learn to understand, reports, reports of reports, reports of reports of reports, and so on. In addition, he receives inferences made from reports, inferences made from other inferences, and so on. By the time a child is a few years old, has gone to school and to Sunday school, and has made a few friends, he has accumulated a considerable amount of second- and third-hand information about morals, geography, history, nature, people, games — all of which information together constitutes his verbal world.

“Now this verbal world ought to stand in relation to the extensional world as a map does to the territory it is supposed to represent. If the child grows to adulthood with a verbal world in his head which corresponds fairly closely to the extensional world that he finds around him in his widening experience, he is in relatively small danger of being shocked or hurt by what he finds, because his verbal world has told him what, more or less, to expect. He is prepared for life. If, however, he grows up with a false map in his head — that is, with a head crammed with false knowledge and superstition — he will constantly be running into trouble, wasting his efforts, and acting like a fool....

“We all inherit a great deal of useless knowledge, and a great deal of misinformation and error, so that there is always a portion of what we have been told that must be discarded.“ —Hayakawa, Language in Action, pp: 23, 25.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

A false map is one that fails to correspond to the facts and may lead to the following:

1. A child’s feeling of insecurity, developed when adults do not keep their promises.

2. A child’s failure to seek counseling because he has not received realistic advice in similar situations in the past.

3. A child’s difficulty in establishing a sound set of values when the adults around him give him a map of his world in terms of cynicism, materialism, and expediency.

4. A child’s unrealistic fears of policemen, bogeymen, germs, and animals, sometimes implanted in his mind by unjust parental threats.

5. The disappointment of young people who believed the Horatio Alger formula — that anyone who is clean, honest, and hard-working can be president — and who followed the formula but did not achieve the desired goal because they failed to consider other factors that contribute to success.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. The habit of checking verbal reports with their own past experiences or with the most trustworthy authority they can find.

2. An awareness that verbal maps which do not fit the facts can cause misunderstandings.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 13


In the same way that a map is useful if it fits the territory, words are useful if they fit the facts.

Example from Korzybski

“Let us take some actual territory in which cities appear in the following order: San Francisco, Chicago, New York, when taken from the West to the East. If we were to build a map of this territory and place San Francisco between Chicago and New York thus:

we should say that the map was wrong, or that it was an incorrect map, or that the map has a different structure from the territory.”[1] —Science And Sanity, p. 58.

“If we should try to use such a map, what might happen?”


“Let’s check some of our maps to see whether they are false, or whether we are reading them incorrectly.”

1. “In some hotels and clubs there is no floor marked 13. The elevator goes from 12 to 14 because some guests are superstitious. Would you say that is an accurate map?”

2. “Our graduates say that they worry during the summer about entering high school because upper classmen give them a terrifying account of rough initiations, difficult subjects, and lots of homework. The pupils who accept this map, worry; others who don’t accept it as correct make one of their own by visiting the school and observing what happens there.”

“Did last year’s class give you a good map of what to expect in this grade?”

3. “You have heard people say that a big city is heartless, that no one knows or cares what happens to you. Let’s look at the facts. In Chicago, for example, a ‘phone call to the Family Service Bureau of the United Charities will put you in touch with someone who will advise you or give you assistance in all kinds of family problems. The Children’s Aid sees that children who need clothes get them; the Shriners help crippled children; the Lions and Kiwanis will help children who need glasses or hearing aids; the P.T.A. has a welfare fund, and there are dental and medical clinics maintained by the universities where any child can receive treatment. The Community Fund supports hundreds of organizations that help people.”

“In all cities there are individuals as well as organizations that are ready and willing to help. There is a minister, or priest, or rabbi, or doctor, or trusted teacher, or the attendance officer-people who will talk over your problems with you and keep your confidences. Was the map accurate? Did the words fit the facts?”

4. “If you planned a trip across the United States, would you start without a map showing you the highways? If you wanted to have a carefree trip, wouldn’t you also take along a compass and a tool kit? In these lessons we have discovered a tool kit for our trip through the world of words. Who can tell me what we have in our tool kit?” .


—Object1 is not object2.


—There’s always more to be said.

—Everything changes. School 1950 is not school 1949.


—Does the word fit the fact? What does he mean?


—Evaluate before you act.

[2] When lecturing, Korzybski substituted San Francisco, Chicago, and New York for Paris, Dresden, and Warsaw.

Lesson 14

Unqualified Statements

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

We are likely to achieve more effective communication if we use descriptive terms rather than unqualified statements.

Resource Readings

“Suppose an issue arises between observers who have described a situation with quite different adjectives. Mr. A. insists that ‘George is most unpleasant,’ while Mr. B. argues that ‘George is a very pleasant sort of person.’ Discussions in which there is such marked difference of opinion often end in stalemate, mere ‘ ’tis-’taint’ squabbling and open conflict. When this happens, verbal interchange between people leads to little constructive, with no settlement of the question, and with opinions often more deeply ingrained than when the discussion began. If talk would be enlightening, some way must be found to prevent impasses from developing and disagreements from becoming solidified. The problem is not acute when George appears as the issue, but if the larger questions of economics, politics, and religion are talked about in similar fashion, wrangling and bitterness become inevitable consequences. ...

“We should here urge the adoption of the following two-part plan whenever differing adjectives appear in the course of different interpretations.

“First, we must become conscious that the projection of ‘pleasantness’ and ‘unpleasantness’ is coached by the use of the ‘is’ form, which should be translated into ‘appears... to...’

“Second, instead of reasserting that ‘George is pleasant’ in different ways with mounting fervor, students may find it most helpful to move the talk from the level of judgment-making to more descriptive levels. That is, let the student who recognizes the predication problem ask his friend or antagonist questions such as these: What actions of George lead you to the judgment of ‘pleasantness’? What did you see him do which I also might see? What extensional facts that you observed provide the basis for your adjective?

“Much evidence gathered from individuals who have used such tactics makes abundantly clear one fact: that agreement is more readily achieved on descriptive levels than on higher orders of abstraction. When conversation can be brought to terms of actions and performances, the opposition is often resolved right there.” —Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, pp. 248, 249.

“Sense impressions arise as a joint phenomenon of an observer with something observed. ‘Qualities’ do not exist in ‘things,’ though projected there by the implications of any form of the verb to be preceded or followed by an adjective.” —Ibid., p. 253.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

Failure to use descriptive terms in statements is likely to be displayed by the following:

1. The person who labels people and things and who feels that he knows all about something in all its forms for all time will show this attitude in statements such as the following:

a) Travel is broadening — rather than what kind of travel, under what conditions, etc.

b) A white-collar job is very desirable — rather than what kind of white-collar job, at what salary, for whom, etc.

Discussion in these cases would be futile until the statements are qualified. The unqualified terms that cause the disagreement must be fixed, so that discussion is profitable.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. An awareness of the unlimited, unqualified nature of some statements.

2. Refusal to discuss statements until they are qualified.

3. The habit of applying the indexes — what kind, where, when, for whom, etc. — to the unqualified statements.

4. The habit of substituting “it appears” or “it seems” or “it is often called” for forms of the verb “to be.”

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 14


At the beginning of the class place the following chart on the board, and without any explanation ask the pupils to fill one in at their places.

1. Snowballing is fun.      
2. Exercise is good for you.      
3. Arithmetic is difficult.      
4. Homework is useless.      
5. Pets are fun.      

6. Poetry is boring.


Count the number of comments and checks under true and false with the pupils. Allow arguments to develop among the pupils about the statements, then proceed to the lesson.


We think some discussions are useless or even disagreeable because some of our statements are neither true nor false; they are unqualified because they contain terms that should be indexed: When? How much? What kind? For whom?

Example.— Alittle girl was told to “do the dishes.” So she washed plates, saucers, and cups, but did not dry them and left silver, glasses, and pans unwashed. She reports quite a misunderstanding with her mother.


1. “Let’s fix the terms in some of those sentences we had at the beginning of the lesson.”

Snowballing is fun.


Packed with ice Child who is injured
Dozens of snowballs Child chased by gang
Light fluffy snow Child playing with friend.

Exercise is good for you.


Basement scrubbing After a big meal
Running upstairs After an operation
An outdoor game After school

“Can we agree now? Isn’t it more sensible to fix terms by using the index than to say, ‘it is, it isn’t’ indefinitely?”


We need to make use of our who, what, when, and where indexes before we discuss some statements.


1. “Does putting a date or index on this statement change your thinking?”

Clubs are snobbish.

“All clubs? Are snobbish when they do what?”

2. “On the personality tests when pupils are asked to make three wishes, they often say they wish for great wealth, perfect health, and no more wars. Are they asking for things that all people can achieve during their lives? Don’t you think it would be more realistic for them to wish for something that they could work for and that the average person could achieve, such as the money for a comfortable house, or the ability to play an outdoor game, or the ability to make a pleasant home life?”

3. Let the pupils act out situations, dramatizing before and after fixing the terms.

Parents say,

“Be home early.”

“Be good while we are gone.”
“Don’t be silly.”

Child says,

“I need a larger allowance.”

“The other kids can all stay out.”

Student says,

“Television does not interfere with my study.”

Landlord says,

“People with children are undesirable tenants.”
Girl says,

“All eighth-grade girls use lipstick.”

4. “Let’s make a collection of unqualified statements from the newspapers.”

Lesson 15

Either-or vs. Many Values

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

We have an infinite number of values in our world, but in our speech we tend to speak in one or two values. If we talk as if things are either black or white and tend to ignore the shades between, we are likely to have an unrealistic picture of our universe.

Resource Readings

“We talk, not always but often, and particularly in decisive matters, as though there were only two alternatives, so that anything must be classified as either A or B (the so-called law of the excluded middle). We pride ourselves on being willing to consider both sides of a question, as though a third, or even a tenth or a fifty-fourth, were inconceivable. Not infrequently, of course, we do recognize a third possibility: high, low, and medium; good, bad, and so-so. In such a case, our language assumes a three-valued structure. This makes possible a middle-of-the-road policy, the so-called golden mean. The view that moderation in all things is a virtue expresses the conviction that an either-or form of language is not conducive to wisdom.” —Johnson, People in Quandaries, p. 116.

“This two-valued orientation is obviously not similar structurally to the world of objects, happenings, people, feelings, etc. Our talk, when we see only two values instead of many, thus gives a false, inadequate, misleading evaluation of the world. It is possible to extend the orientations from two to the recognition that perhaps there are three, four, five, and so on, but the number of possibilities remains dissimilar to the actual facts of experience.” —Lee, Language Habits in Human Affairs, p. 108.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

If we accept that there are only one or two values in our world we are apt to find the following:

1. In differences of opinion, one side is right; the other, all wrong.

2. In judging people, one label is applied rather than many descriptive terms.

3. Unattainable goals are set which may lead to frustration.

4. Courses of action are chosen on an either-or basis.

5. Teachers judge classes as bright or dull rather than finding pupils’ individual abilities in different subjects.

Teachers are familiar with the two-valued orientation of critics of the schools who ask them to return to the three Rs or to use the progressive method. The experienced teacher uses many methods, combining and adapting them according to the needs of the pupils.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. An awareness that there are many ways of looking at a person or event.

2. The habit of describing rather than labeling people and events.

The pupil who applies his training in this area should be more alert and observing. He should be more open-minded in discussions.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 15


We speak as if there were only one or two ways of looking at persons and things. Could this prevent our looking for more ways of thinking about people or events?

Examples.—People are called good or bad, rich or poor, smart or dumb, kind or mean, dirty or clean.


1. Draw a line on the board and ask the pupils to list some common either-or expressions and, as they are given, list them at opposite ends of the line.





succeed fail
honest crooked
happy miserable
popular unpopular
cold hot
clumsy graceful
noisy quiet

Select the pair hot and cold, and ask whether there are only two ways of describing temperature. Draw from the pupils the idea that degrees on a thermometer give a more accurate representation.

Take the pair heavy and light, and discuss the use of scales to give a more accurate description.

Take far and near or fast and slow, and contrast with speedometer measures.

Ask if the pupils think we might use a scale for thinking or talking about people rather than the either-or way. “Let’s use descriptive terms rather than one or two terms if we wish to describe people or events accurately.”

2. Then select a pair such as dark or light and ask the class to count the pupils with dark or light hair. If they discover that the largest number is in-between, build a normal-probability curve with them. Or use weather to make a curve showing that only a few days are above 100° and only a few below 0°.

Plot curves on report card marks, tardiness, size of books, etc. Point out that in real life most people and things fit in the middle, but we have very few words to designate this middle (average, normal, medium). “Are there differences in the middle also?”


“We hear people say ‘Either you do this, or I’ll ...’ How many threats can we hear based on this kind of thinking? What can we do about them?”

Try to point out many degrees of compromise in daily life: in Congress, in courts, in business, etc.


There are many ways of describing people and things rather than just one or two terms.


1. The following examples show situations in which setting an unreal goal makes for unhappiness:

a) The boy who doesn’t receive all Es thinks he hasn’t done a good job.

b) The mother who won’t entertain when her house isn’t perfectly clean.

c) The child who feels unpopular because not everyone likes him.

d) The pianist who won’t perform because she might make mistakes.

“Look at real life. How many perfect performances do you see? Does practice make ‘perfect’ or does it make ‘better’?”

2. “Patrol boys and monitors sometimes excuse their roughness with younger pupils by saying, ‘That’s the only way I could make them behave.’ Are there other ways?”

3. “Must you choose between classical or modern music? How many kinds of music can you name? How many can you enjoy?”

4. “What does the word recreation mean to you? What could it mean, besides movies or playing games?” Help the pupils make an extensive list of hobbies and creative work.

5. “An old saying, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’ shows how few people ever attained their goal on one try. That didn’t make them failures. What does this show about labeling people success or failure?”


“Do you think that this lesson means that we do not set high goals for ourselves?”

No. We set realistic tasks for ourselves and work at them so that we can continue improving and growing, rather than making a verbal map of success 100 per cent or best or perfect. We can enjoy a sport without being “the best” or “champion.” We can be happy if our spelling improves steadily, even if we don’t win the spelling bee.

Lesson 16

What Are Good Questions?

Teacher Summary

Theoretical Basis

If we examine some of the questions which we repeatedly ask ourselves without arriving at an answer, we may clear the way for effective answers.

Resource Readings

“Certainly any scientific worker of experience knows that by far the most important step toward the solution of a laboratory problem lies in stating the problem in such a way as to suggest a fruitful attack on it. ...

“Now, intimate personal problems are not greatly different in this respect from problems of the laboratory. Before they can be solved, they must be stated. ...

“There cannot be a precise answer to a vague question.” —Johnson, People in Quandaries, pp. 16, 17.

“Of his every question, the scientist asks, ‘By exactly what procedures might a reliable factual answer to it be found?’ If he cannot find such procedures, he abandons the question. That is why he is so efficient in solving problems; he confines his energies to questions that can be clearly answered.”—Ibid., pp. 55, 56.

Examples of Misevaluations in This Area

When people fail to appreciate the importance of framing good questions, the following situations may result:

1. A person believes he is doing something about a problem when he worries about it.

Teacher: How can I teach a class of this large size? Do these pupils know as much as pupils did twenty-five years ago?

Pupil: Do I dare go home with this poor report?

2. A person feels that he can solve his problems if he just finds the right book, or takes the proper courses, or finds a dependable adviser to answer his questions — that one right answer must be somewhere.

Attitudes and Habits We Desire Pupils to Develop

1. An awareness of when they are worrying rather than thinking about a problem.

2. The habit of restating a question so that they can find an answer to it.

3. The habit of asking questions that lead to action.

Presentation to Pupils LESSON 16


Sometimes we waste time trying to answer questions that are useless, contradictory, or unanswerable.

Examples.-Which came first, the egg or the chicken? Can you square a circle? etc.

“These are extreme examples of contradictory statements that can be argued either way without reaching any valid result. Can you name some similar questions? What are some adjectives that describe these questions above?” (Nonsensical, useless, unanswerable)


1. Display a chalk box and ask how many pieces of chalk are in the box. After accepting many estimates ask, “How can we answer the question?” When pupils agree to open the box, do so, and count the pieces. Ask, “Was that a question that could be answered?” Then ask how many bricks there are in the school building, or leaves on a certain tree. Do the pupils think they could make an accurate count? What do they think about such a question?

2. “It may seem too obvious that the second question was a nonsense question, but let’s list some questions that people discuss that are just as nonsensical. Let’s see if we can change these questions so that we can discuss them.”


Why am I afraid of drowning? Where can I learn to swim?
Why are people so unkind? Why didn’t you wait for me?
Why did this have to happen to me? How can I change this situation?
Will you always be my best, friend? What would you enjoy doing?
How can I be popular? Where can I learn to dance?
Why do I have to go to school? What will be fun today in school?

3. “Make a long list of such questions and the changes you would suggest. Notice that when you change the questions, it enables you to quit going around in circles. Now you can either answer your question or act on it.”


1. Tell the story of the “Sword of Damocles.” Damocles was a man of olden times who was allowed to change places with the tyrant Dionysius for a day. He was given everything that the king enjoyed: costly garments, fine foods, wines, music, and many servants. He was enjoying all this when he happened to look up. He saw a sharp sword suspended by a horsehair dangling just above his head. He turned pale and cried out.

When Dionysius saw how disturbed Damocles was, he explained that he always had that sword dangling above his head, that it was always a question in his mind when one of his subjects might decide to kill him.

Damocles immediately lost all interest in the pleasures set before him. He decided that he would not want to be king if he had to suffer the torment of trying to answer the question of when the sword would fall.

Ask what effect asking unanswerable questions might have on the person who asks them; on the person who attempts to answer? “Might such questions cause people to worry and become anxious?”

2. Ask the pupils to read stories about the famous oracles in Greek history books. “What do you think about the oracles as a means of answering questions?”


We should not waste time or effort asking or trying to answer useless questions.


Put the following two sets of questions on the board and ask the pupils to analyze the differences in the two sets.

What do they see in modern art?   When can I go to the art institute to see the movies of modern art?
Why does she dress so funny?   What kind thing can I do to make her forget her poor clothes?
Why do people believe in such an odd religion?   What two things can I find alike in our religions?
Why do I have to listen to such an old bore?   How can I tactfully change the subject?
Who wants to study poetry?   I like animals—where can I find a poem about horses?
Is it wrong to fib about your age when you ride the street car or go to the movies?   Which would I rather have—a few cents made by cheating or self-respect and a good name as an honest person?
Why can’t I look like a movie star?   What one habit of good grooming would improve my appearance?
“How do the lists differ?”

Suggestions for Class Check Ups

Before beginning this course you may ask the pupils to write a paper about a home or a school problem that is disturbing to them. If you assure them that the privacy of their papers will be respected, they are likely to reveal freely their feelings and evaluations. At the conclusion of the course, ask the pupils to write a similar paper and compare the papers for changes in attitudes.

If you wish to make a check occasionally on the progress of the class, you may devise an objective test to be used for that purpose. We do not consider the objective test to be as reliable a guide as your own observation of the pupils’ participation in class and their applications of the principles.

The response to tests is very often deceptive in the case of children; they may be able to parrot the words of the lesson, but not see the applications; or they may be unable to reproduce the words but have an understanding and response that is actively influencing their attitudes or behavior. We consider the ability to repeat the lesson the least important learning; the ability to discover examples in life situations and in selected readings the next most important; but we consider the two abilities plus increased awareness of meaningful language and improved attitudes and behavior the highest achievement.

It may be difficult sometimes for you to evaluate the character of the response you are getting. One teacher asked a little girl why she never joined in the discussion and seemed to be perplexed during the presentation of the lesson. The pupil replied that she was deeply interested, but that she liked to think the lessons over at her leisure. Then she went on to tell how she had solved one of her conflicts with her mother through application of what she had learned.

Quite a few such unexpected responses have made us conclude that we should not measure the class learning in terms of a set body of knowledge to be acquired in a certain period of time, nor should we be discouraged by occasional lags in class development of insight.

If you feel that a test must be given, the following questions are the type that we suggest. We limit the test to one or two questions because the answers called for are too comprehensive to write in one period.

1. Repeat some of the ideas of general semantics that made the deepest impression on you.

2. Tell about a misunderstanding you read about in a book or newspaper that was like one we studied in this course. Has this training influenced your reading of books or newspapers? In what way?

3. Tell about an example of failure to date or failure to see differences in a real-life situation.

4. Have you tried to teach anyone any of these lessons? What was your experience?

5. Do you think you are slower in anger and have fewer quarrels since you have studied these lessons?

6. Have you been able to detect someone stating an opinion as if it were a statement of fact? Tell about it.

7. Do you think you have learned to listen to people more carefully? Are you more willing to ask questions if you don’t understand?

8. Do you do more reciting in class or recite more easily because of this training?

9. Has this training changed your attitude toward any of your school subjects? Describe any changes.

10. Has this training changed your attitude toward any persons? Have you looked for differences in people?

Incidents for Discussion

The following incidents are factual accounts concerning upper grade pupils. They were chosen because they illustrate some of the patterns of evaluation or language habits that we have been studying in this course.

It is suggested that you have these stories mimeographed or duplicated so that each pupil has his copy. If you do mimeograph any material from this handbook, please give credit to the author, title, and publisher so that the copyright will be protected. These stories call for careful reading and frequent rereading to verify some point that is brought up in the discussion.

Very few questions have been given at the conclusion of each incident because different classes see different values in the stories. Ask only as many questions as are needed to keep the discussion going.

There are no conclusions or morals as in “Aesop’s Fables” to be pointed out to the pupils. Instead, ask the pupils to discover misunderstandings or conflict between individuals because of misuse of language.


The chairman of room 309 Student Council said that the next item of room business that day was to plan a program for Brotherhood Week.

John said, “Let’s not have the same old numbers that we have every year. Let’s have something the kids will enjoy. Every year we have “The House I Live In,” the preamble to the United Nations Charter, and speeches on brotherhood. Everyone is tired of listening to the same old numbers.” The pupils signified their assent by groaning at his list.

Maury said, “I agree with you, but remember we have to put over the idea of brotherhood as well as entertain our audience, and it has to be something the teachers (with a side look at the sponsor) will approve. Anybody got any ideas?”

“We haven’t had a play in a long time with make-up, costumes, and footlights (murmurs of approval). Wouldn’t that be a good idea to put over our idea — get our audience interested?” Iris asked.

Helen agreed, “I think Iris has a wonderful idea. We have been reading the Hundred Dresses. Why can’t we make a play of it? It certainly teaches a lesson in brotherhood.”

The suggestion was put in the form of a motion and unanimously passed. Committees were appointed to write the story in play form and parts were discussed.

The sponsor was interested to see how the group settled the problem of casting the parts. Little attention was paid to acting ability, voice, or delivery. Much to her surprise the role of a snobbish, thoughtless girl, leader of a group, was desired by Renee, a pupil who often displayed these characteristics in the room. Her classmates voted her the part. In the story this girl heads a snobbish clique. Renee’s friends volunteered for these parts.

The sponsor was amused by their realism in casting the parts, but she felt that they were overdoing it when they selected Pat as the girl who would play Wanda, the poor little girl who was so unhappy that she lived in a dream world where she had the things the other girls had. The sponsor waited for Pat to refuse indignantly the part offered her. “Surely she will see why they have chosen her for the part of Wanda,” the sponsor thought. “She is always outside the little groups that form at recess time, smiling wistfully at them, when all the notice she receives is a scornful or pitying glance at her boy’s haircut and her faded, too short dresses, or patched blue jeans.”

But Pat seemed delighted at being chosen and promised the committee that she would study her part and give an outstanding performance. So the sponsor sat back and comforted herself with the thought that for the first time Pat would be included in the group — at least during practices.

After two weeks of practice at recess, during which Renee, her crowd, and Pat worked faithfully, the play was given for the entire school. Room 309 was congratulated by the other rooms; messengers carried notes of praise from pupils, teachers, and parents. In a fine glow of self-satisfaction, room 309 decided that they had done the best job of teaching brotherhood to date.

The sponsor was willing to accept their verdict until the recess bell rang. She saw Renee and her friends form their usual exclusive circle, while Pat finally wandered over to her former place by the window. She sat there alone, just near enough to hear them discuss how well they had put over the lesson that a person should not be judged by his clothes or money.

Renee’s group recalled their successful play many times before their graduation in June, and Pat always smiled a little as she overheard them from a seat by the window.


1. How do you feel about this true-life story?

2. Would you be willing to say that the play was an entire failure in promoting brotherhood?

3. Have you observed any similar situations where a lesson was not applied to life situations?

4. Would you call this story an example of confusing the words with the feelings?


The adjustment teacher collected the Personality Test papers, handed them to Miss Anderson, the homeroom teacher, and said, “Be sure to notice the last item in this test, where the pupils state three wishes. They have been told to write what they would wish for if they had only three wishes that would really come true. You know, you can tell more about the pupil from these wishes than all the rest of the test.”

Miss Anderson looked at the name on the top paper, Lois Allen. “Well,” thought Miss Anderson, “there’s a girl who certainly does not need three wishes. She has everything: beauty, brains, a stunning wardrobe, doting parents, happy home. What else do most girls crave?”

Idly she turned the paper over to the last item and read with growing surprise:

1. I wish some one would invite me to a party.

2. I wish a boy would ask me out graduation day when all the others have dates.

3. I wish I belonged to any one crowd.

Miss Anderson thought, “Could this be? I don’t see how I’ve been so blind to Lois’s unhappiness.” She pictured Lois as she had seen her in different situations during the past year — her hand waving in eagerness to give the right answer during recitations; her hand quickly raised to correct the pupil who was reciting; her studiousness at recess time when the children were rushing out to games. “I believe I begin to see a pattern in her actions,” thought Miss Anderson, “but I had better find out how her classmates feel.”

Next recess and noontime Miss Anderson managed to get a few pupils alone and lead the conversation around to their feelings about Lois. She was rewarded with such descriptions of Lois as smarty, stuck-up, know-it-all, snobbish, the girl I dislike most, and more violent and unflattering terms.

Miss Anderson thought, “Here’s where I have to go to work on this situation.” So she called Lois in for a conference and said, “I read your three wishes and believe we can make them come true.”

Lois didn’t seem to share Miss Anderson’s optimism, but she agreed to do certain things: (1) she would not volunteer an answer in any class, (2) she would never correct a fellow pupil, and (3) she would be inattentive or disorderly at least once a day for awhile. No one was to know of this agreement.

The next day the class sat in stunned silence as Lois stumbled through a recitation and received a severe reproof from Miss Anderson instead of the usual helpful hint or encouraging smile given to slower students. The next period smiles were exchanged around the room as Lois was given a caustic reprimand for carrying on a conversation during a lesson. Miss Anderson saw that several girls lingered at recess time to sympathize with Lois, and that she joined a group discussing how unjustly she had been treated.

Sometimes during the following month Miss Anderson felt that she had been overhasty in prescribing for Lois when she dealt with many disturbances in the immediate neighborhood of Lois’ desk. But she felt a glow of satisfaction when Lois confided in her at graduation time that Jim, a very popular boy, was taking her to a party the crowd was giving, and that two other girls in her club were going too.

Miss Anderson’s conscience hasn’t troubled her too much because in the years since then Lois won a college scholarship, and combined a successful social life with her studies.


1. Do you find any misunderstandings in this story between:

a) The teacher and Lois

b) Lois and her classmates

2. What do you think caused these misunderstandings?

3. Have you ever observed a situation like Lois’s? Explain.


The student council discussed an important problem: How to keep the children from running across the busy intersection to the school store for candy at recess time. The members reached the decision that monitors would have to be stationed at the corners to keep the children in the playground.

When the chairman asked for volunteers to give up their recess games and undertake this duty, there were no volunteers; no one was willing to sacrifice his playtime. The chairman of the student council used every argument he could think of, but failed to persuade anyone until he said, “These boys will be known as the Border Patrol, and receive recognition at the assemblies.”

Half-a-dozen boys reconsidered and formed the Border Patrol which served efficiently that year and has become an established, popular activity in the school.


1. Why do you suppose the boys changed their minds?

2. Can you tell about a similar happening?


There was just no getting away from it — Daniel was obsessed by streetcars. Ever since he entered eighth grade, his teacher had noticed that Daniel’s choice of a subject for art was a picture centered around a streetcar; if he handed in a theme, it was likely to be written from a motorman’s or conductor’s point of view; if he made up an arithmetic problem, it had something to do with collecting fares or making change. As the year went on, Dan’s interest never wavered or diminished.

On the day Dan was scheduled for a conference on his career chart, his teacher pointed out to him his only choice of a career and said, “Dan, did you ever feel that some occupations might be rather monotonous, going through the same routine day after day?”

“Yes,” said Daniel, “I’ve often felt sorry for you, teaching eighth grade year after year, same old thing everyday. Same kids, same lessons. I’d hate to have to earn my living that way.”

“Well!” said his teacher trying to shift her viewpoint quickly from the offensive to the defensive, “The children are different each year, and so that means different problems, and I do try to vary my lessons.”

Dan smiled doubtfully at her defense and said, “Just what I think about being a conductor. You meet different people every day and get into all kinds of different situations.”

“I see,” said his teacher. “I suppose you and I will meet some fine morning years from now, and we’ll both be happy because we are doing the thing we like.”


1. What does this story point out about different people enjoying different kinds of work?

2. Perhaps Dan and his teacher would never have known about one another’s feelings without their conference. Have you ever been surprised to find out that a person had feelings that you never suspected? How did you happen to discover these feelings?

Illustrative Readings


Nathaniel Shaler

The following is an account of how Louis Agassiz trained one of his pupils to see the things that people ordinarily miss.

When I sat me down before my tin pan, Agassiz brought me a small fish, placing it before me with the rather stern requirement that I should study it, but should on no account talk to any one concerning it, nor read anything relating to fishes, until I had his permission so to do. To my inquiry “What shall I do?” he said in effect: “Find out what you can without damaging the specimen; when I think that you have done the work I will question you.” In the course of an hour I thought I had compassed that fish; it was rather an unsavory object, giving forth the stench of old alcohol, then loathsome to me, though in time I came to like it. Many of the scales were loosened so that they fell off. It appeared to me to be a case for a summary report, which I was anxious to make and get on to the next stage of the business. But Agassiz, though always within call, concerned himself no further with me that day, nor the next, nor for a week. At first, this neglect was distressing; but I saw that it was a game, for he was, as I discerned rather than saw, covertly watching me. So I set my wits to work upon the thing, and in the course of a hundred hours or so thought I had done much — a. hundred times as much as seemed possible at the start. I got interested in finding out how the scales went in series, their shape, the form and placement of the teeth, etc. Finally, I felt full of the subject and probably expressed it in my bearing; as for words about it then, there were none from my master except his cheery “Good morning.” At length on the seventh day, came the question “Well?” and my disgorge of learning to him as he sat on the edge of my table puffing his cigar. At the end of the hour’s telling, he swung off and away, saying, “That is not right.” ... Moreover, it was clear that he was playing a game with me to find if I were capable of doing hard, continuous work without the support of a teacher, and this stimulated me to labor. I went at the task anew, discarded my first notes, and in another week of ten hours a day labor I had results which astonished myself and satisfied him.


Helen Keller

The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrast between the two lives which it connects. It was the third of March, 1887, three months before I was seven years old.

On the afternoon of that eventful day, I stood on the porch, dumb, expectant. I guessed vaguely from my mother’s signs and from the hurrying to and fro in the house that something unusual was about to happen, so I went to the door and waited on the steps. The afternoon sun penetrated the mass of honeysuckle that covered the porch, and fell on my upturned face. My fingers lingered almost unconsciously on the familiar leaves and blossoms which had just come forth to greet the sweet southern spring. I did not know what the future held of marvel or surprise for me. Anger and bitterness had preyed upon me continually for weeks and a deep languor had succeeded this passionate struggle . ...

The morning after my teacher came she led me into her room and gave me a doll. The little blind children at the Perkins Institution had sent it and Laura Bridgman had dressed it; but I did not know this until afterward. When I had played with it a little while, Miss Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand the word “d-o-1-1.” I was at once interested in this finger play and tried to imitate it. When I finally succeeded in making the letters correctly I was flushed with childish pleasure and pride. Running downstairs to my mother I held up my hands and made the letters for doll. I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that words existed; I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like imitation. In the days that followed I learned to spell in this uncomprehending way a great many words, among them pin, hat, cup, and a few verbs like sit, stand and walk. But my teacher had been with me several weeks before I understood that everything has a name.

One day, while I was playing with my new doll, Miss Sullivan put my big rag doll into my lap also, spelled “d-o-1-1” and tried to make me understand that “d-o-1-1” applied to both. Earlier in the day we had had a tussle over the words “m-u-g” and “w-a-t-e-r.” Miss Sullivan had tried to impress it upon me that “m-u-g” is mug and “w-a-t-e-r” is water, but I persisted in confounding the two. In despair she had dropped the subject for the time, only to renew it at the first opportunity. I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. ...

We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.

I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought.


John Godfrey Saxe

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, “Ho! what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ’tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee:

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” quoth he;

“’Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope.

Then, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong.

Though each was partly in the right

They all were in the wrong!


(An Adaptation)

Hans Christian Andersen

Once upon a time there was an Emperor who loved fine clothes. He did not care for any of the duties of an Emperor, all that mattered were his fine clothes. He had a different waistcoat, a different cloak, a different hat, and a different wig for every hour of the day.

One day two men came to the palace. One carried a pair of scissors, the other a long measuring stick. They walked up to the Emperor’s throne and bowed.

“Your Majesty,” they said, “we are weavers. Other weavers have made you rare, beautiful, costly clothes. But we will weave you even more beautiful clothes that are costlier and rarer!” They went up to the Emperor and whispered in his ear. “The clothes we weave have magical power! They are invisible to anyone that is stupid and unfit for his office.”

The Emperor thought that this was a good way to find out which of his subjects were stupid and unfit for his office. So he hired the weavers and gave them a sack of gold for silken thread and any equipment that they might need.

The weavers set up their looms in a high tower and all night they seemed to be working very busily. But they were only pretending. For they were rascals who were only tricking the Emperor to get his gold.

His Majesty was waiting impatiently for days for his new clothes. But there was an uncomfortable thought bothering him. He didn’t think he was stupid and unfit for office. Anyway, he’d send his Lord High Chamberlain to look at the material first.

The Lord High Chamberlain went to the room where the weavers had their looms. He gasped at what he saw — or rather didn’t see — for the looms were perfectly bare! “Oh, my goodness,” he gasped. “I must be stupid and unfit for office, for I can’t see the slightest bit of cloth! But I’ll say I do for no one must know of my stupidity.” So he told the weavers that he thought it was beautiful beyond words and ran off to tell the Emperor the very same thing.

When the Emperor heard this, he was even more impatient than ever. A few days later he sent the Lord High Chamberlain and the Assistant Lord High Chamberlain to see how the work was getting along. Of course they didn’t see anything, but praised the “cloth,” and brought wonderful, glowing accounts of its texture and color to the impatient Emperor.

Soon the whole court was talking about the wonderful clothes. Finally His Majesty got too impatient to wait any longer, and went to see the wonderful material.

The Emperor’s eyes opened wide. Scissors and needles he could see, but not one inch of cloth! Could it be that he was stupid and unfit for office? If so, no one must know. “It’s marvelous, the cloth is wonderful,” he said. “Now make it into my new clothes.” He gave the weavers twenty sacks of gold and named them “High Exalted Weavers to the Imperial Court.” After awhile the weavers said that the clothes would be ready the next day.

“Then let tomorrow be a holiday!” cried the Emperor. “Let there be a court procession; I wish all my subjects to gaze on me in my wonderful, magical clothes.”

Early the next morning the weavers came into His Majesty’s dressing room. They asked him to remove his old clothes and proceeded to “dress” him in the new ones, meanwhile praising their texture and fit. The Emperor called in his Chamberlains, and they also marveled at the “new clothes.”

Finally the procession started. The Lord High Chamberlain pretended to carry the Emperor’s train. Neither would admit to the other that there was no train to carry. The procession marched to the town where all the subjects cheered for the Emperor’s clothes. No one would admit to his neighbor that the Emperor wasn’t wearing anything for they did not want to seem stupid and unfit for office. Finally a little child cried out, “But the Emperor has no clothes on at all!”

“Shhh — of course he hasn’t,” another child said. “Don’t you know? Everyone is pretending!”

The people started to laugh at what the children had said and finally everyone was laughing.

The procession stopped. The Lord High Chamberlain’s face turned beet red. The Emperor looked at his naked body and giving a groan, he turned around and fled back to the Palace.

By the time he got back, the “High Exalted Weavers to the Imperial Court” had disappeared and so had the twenty sacks of gold. His Majesty went to his dressing room and put on his plainest suit. From that day on he never cared for fancy clothes. He cared for nothing except all the important business an Emperor has to do.

Books Suggested for Further Reading

Awareness of Differences

“The following stories contain examples of differences. Sometimes the people in these stories had difficulties when they forgot that no two things are ever exactly the same. Perhaps they forgot that there are differences in families, in schools, in nationalities, and in religions. Can you describe some of their misunderstandings?”

Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. New York: David McKay Co., 1947.

Armer, Laura Adams. Dark Circle of Branches. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1933.

Benedict, Ruth. In Henry’s Backyard. New York: Henry Schuman, Inc., 1948.

Burt, Olive W. Cloud Girl. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1951.

Crew, Helen C. Saturday’s Children. Eau Claire, Wisconsin: E. M. Hale and Co., 1940.

Day, Clarence. Life with Father. New York: Modern Library, Inc., 1944.

Evans, Eva Knox. All About Us. New York: Capitol Publishing Co., 1947.

Estes, Eleanor. Hundred Dresses. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1944.

Finger, Charles. A Dog at His Heels. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1936.

Gates, Doris. Blue Willow. New York: Viking Press, 1940.

Gilbreth, Frank Bunker and Carey, Ernestine Gilbreth. Cheaper by the Dozen. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1948.

Jackson, Helen Hunt. Ramona. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1939.

Judson, Clara Ingram. The Green Ginger Jar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949.

Malkus, Alida. Stone Knife Boy. Eau Claire, Wisconsin: E. M. Hale and Co., 1940.

Means, Florence C. Shuttered Windows. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938.

Rawlings, Marjorie K. The Yearling. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1947.

Rice, Alice Hegan. Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1901.

Rosenheim, Lucile G. Kathie, the New Teacher. New York: Julian Messner, Inc., 1949.

Stefansson, Vilhjalmur. My Life with the Eskimos. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1927.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1920.

Tunis, John R. Yea! Wildcats. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1944.

_____, A City for Lincoln. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1945.

Wiggin, Kate Douglas. The Birds’ Christmas Carol. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941.

Whitney, Phyllis. Willow Hill. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1947.

Science and Language

“The following selections differ from fiction, mythology, and imaginative stories. Can you describe how they differ? How does having a scientific attitude seem to affect people?”

Beebe, William. Exploring with Beebe. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1933.

Bendick, Jeanne. Electronics for Boys and Girls. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1944.

Bolton, Sarah K. Famous Men of Science. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1938.

Curie, Eve. Madam Curie, a Biography. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1937.

Ditmars, Raymond. Book of Living Reptiles. Philadelphia: Lippincott Co., 1936.

Doorly, Eleanor. Microbe Man. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1939.

Fabre, Henri J. Life of the Spider. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1912.

Fisher, Clyde. The Life of Audubon. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949.

Gollomb, Joseph. Albert Schweitzer: Genius in the Jungle. New York: Vanguard Press, 1949.

Holt, Rackham. George Washington Carver. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1943.

Levinger, Elma. Albert Einstein. New York: Julian Messner, 1949.

Maeterlinck, Maurice. The Life of the Ant. New York: John Day, 1930.

Harsanyi, Zsolt. The Star-gazer. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1939.

Delay Before Speaking or Acting

“The following selections tell of incidents where even a brief pause to consider or think might have prevented the difficulties people had. Can you find the spot where delay might have helped a person to make a better choice of words or actions?”

Browning, Robert. Pied Piper of Hamelin. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1946.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1945.

Coleridge, Samuel. Rime of the Ancient Mariner. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1946.

Collodi, Carlo. Adventures of Pinocchio. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1946.

Hale, Edward Everett. Man without a Country. New York: Random House,, 1940.

Skinner, Cornelia Otis. Family Circle. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948.

_____ and Kimbrough, Emily. Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1946.

Tarkington, Booth. Penrod and Sam. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1946.

Waldeck, Theodore. White Panther. New York: Viking Press, 1941.

Wiggin, Kate Douglas. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. New York: Oxford University Press, 1947.


“The following stories contain examples of misunderstandings caused by people speaking or acting as if the feelings inside them were in the outside world. Can you tell where someone acted as if his thoughts or feelings were in some other person or thing?”

Clemens, Samuel. Life On The Mississippi. “A Cub Pilot’s Experience.” New York: Heritage Press, 1944.

Eliot, George. Mill on the Floss. “Maggie and the Gypsies.” New York: Globe Book Co., 1946.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Great Stone Face. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935.

Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1925.

Porter, William S. (O. Henry). Best Stories, “The Gift of the Magi.” New York: Modern Library, 1945.

Ross, Leonard. Education of Hyman Kaplan. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1941.

Spyri, Johanna. Heidi. New York: Random House, 1946.

Stockton, Frank. The Lady or the Tiger and Other Stories. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907.

Awareness of Change

“The following stories point out that we live in a world of change. Some of the people in these stories had to adjust to new situations, new people, or new ideas. How were the people in these stories affected by change? What problems did they have to solve?”

Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. New York: David McKay Co., 1947.

Andersen, Hans Christian. The Ugly Duckling. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1927.

Coryell, Hubert. Klondike Gold. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1938.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Carol. Philadelphia: Lippincott Co., 1934.

Dodge, Mary Mapes. Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1945.

Eaton, Jeanette. Leader by Destiny: George Washington, Man and Patriot. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1938.

Eberle, Irmengarde. Modern Medical Discoveries. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1948.

Fisher, Dorthea. Understood Betsy. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1946.

Irving, Washington. Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1925.

James, Will. Smoky, the Cow Horse. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1946.

Kerr, Laura. Doctor Elizabeth. New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1946.

Kipling, Rudyard. Captains Courageous. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1939.

Kummer, Frederic A. Great Road. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1938.

Linton, Ralph and Adelin. Man’s Way from Cave to Skyscraper. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947.

London, Jack. White Fang. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1939.

Meigs, Cornelia. Master Simon’s Garden. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1929.

Sandburg, Carl. Abe Lincoln Grows Up. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1940.

Steffens, Lincoln. Boy on Horseback. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1935.

Verne, Jules. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. New York: World Publishing Co., 1946.

Vining, Elizabeth Gray. Windows for the Crown Prince. Philadelphia: Lippincott Co., 1952.

Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press, 1945.

Worth, Kathryn. The Middle Button. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1941.

A World of Words

“Some of the following selections tell what happens when people confuse words or talk with the things for which the words stand. Can you describe some of the situations where people failed to recognize facts because they were satisfied with words alone?”

Barrie, James. Sentimental Tommy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1924.

Cervantes, Miguel de. Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945.

De Maupassant, Guy. Complete Short Stories. “APiece of String.” New York: Garden City Publishing Co., 1947.

Forbes, Kathryn. Mama’s Bank Account. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1943.

French, Henry Willard. Lance o f Kanana. Eau Claire, Wisconsin: E. M. Hale and Co., 1941.

Lofting, Hugh. Doctor Dolittle. Philadelphia: Lippincott Co., 1948.

Pinkerton, Kathrene. Windigo. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1945.

Raspe, Rudolph Erich. Singular Travels, Campaigns and Adventures of Baron Munchausen. New York: Worthington, 1884.

Southey, Robert. One Hundred Narrative Poems, “The Battle of Blenheim.” Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1918.

Tunis, John. All-American. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1942.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Tom Sawyer. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1946.

[1] Material placed in boldface quotation marks (“ ”) may be spoken directly to the pupils. 

[2] When lecturing, Korzybski substituted San Francisco, Chicago, and New York for Paris, Dresden, and Warsaw.

[3] From The Autobiography of Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1909, pp. 98, 99.

[4] From The Story o f My Life by Helen Keller. Copyright 1908, 1981 by Helen Keller, reprinted by permission of Doubleday & Company, Inc. (pp. 21-24.)

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