"(thing)"? Hmm... Well, it is now! Ha ha.
We could go a bit farther with what reification means in practical terms: We
reify concepts by naming them. There's no grammatical distinction made in the English
language between a concrete and an abstract noun. By using the same
interface for these two very different items, we win convenience, but we lose clarity and
precision. We also get some heavy thoughts from Immanuel Kant, Bertrand Russell,
and A.J. Ayer. Well, sure: It's heavy stuff. Reification is abstraction. You can't have
one without the other. We have a tool, language, which was originally designed to let
us warn our neighbor that a cave bear was sneaking up on him. Bear, cave, neighbor:
We're manipulating concrete nouns. Well, it turns out that with just a little tweaking,
this same tool can be used to manipulate abstractions as well: "The New World Order is
sneaking up on you." Oh. "What New World Order?" "The one that's
sneaking up on you, dammit! RUN!"
Run, yeah. All the way to Coeur d'Alene.
I'm willing to call it "good design", even if it was dumb luck. I'm just reifyin'
and grinnin' here.
Now, I wouldn't touch the strong Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis with somebody else's brain, but
those of us who take our Whorf boilermaker-style are still willing to look at this
reification-by-naming1 as a monstrous loose cannon. Once we've got a tool to
manipulate abstractions, we can manipulate the hell out of them, for good or ill.
You can't get your nameless fears out of your head? So name them! Welcome to the locked
ward. Most political discourse is a matter of arguing about whose nouns are concrete and
whose aren't, and the rest is mostly a big fight about which abstract referents any
particular signifier pertains to. Ask any two people what "feminism" is, if you doubt
The benefits of the whole mess are right in front of you, if you're using a
computer. The map is not the territory (TM), but we wouldn't still be pretending otherwise
if we didn't gain by it.
Much of our experience of the world is between our ears, and so to hang a name on
"something" -- the New World Order, if you will2 -- is, for many (not all)
practical purposes, to "create" that thing. If it works for acromegaly, it'll work for the New
World Order, and if it works for that, it'll work for misogyny, the Plantagenet dynasty,
honor, and whatever the hell William Blake was going on about.
1 That's an unweildy name (and we just recursed, if you didn't notice),
but "nominal reification" sounds like either reification-in-name-only, or else reification of a name as a thing in
itself a, b, rather than reification of a third party by means of applying
a name. A hair well split (splat?) is a joy forever. JerboaKolinowski kindly suggests "nominative reification" as a more accurate term than "nominal reification", but we hesitate
to take his advice on the grounds that damn few people nowadays know "nominative" from "nominal"; take
me for example....
a Having nothing obnoxious to say, I'm reduced to saying it in English.
b Why yes, I am reading Infinite Jest. Why do you ask?
2 Or even if you won't: When the UN takes your guns away, you won't have any
choice in the matter.