Use and usage
‹‹ In German one speaks on occasion of the Gebrauch
eines Wortes and by it is meant the way it is used (e.g. in the
proposition: ”So lernen ja Kinder Gebrauch der esrsten fünf oder sechs
Grundzahlwoerter”. Corresponding to this one speaks in English of the”use
of a word” (“Children do learn the use of the first five or six cardinal
numbers in this way”). But the word Gebrauch is also used to express the
fact that a definite word usage is normal and then one speaks for
example of the geltenden Sprachgebrauch (“accepted linguistic usage”) of
the fact that der Sprachgebrauch nicht einheitlich sei, sondern
regionalschwanke (“linguistic usage is not homogeneous but varies
regionally”). In this context the word “usage” is used in English.
”linguistic usage” in the second sense determines the specific “use of a word” in the first sense, and makes it possible e.g. that one can use a word correctly or incorrectly, according ro wether it is used in agreement with the rules accepted in the linguistic community or not.
The distinction mentioned is to be found for example in Ryle: “Much more insidious … is the confusion between ‘use’ i.e. a way of operating with something and a ‘usage’… A usage is a custom, practice, fashion or vogue”
Wittgenstein it is true, neglects this disnstinction, so that his use of the word “use” could be better defined in the following way: first of all, by “use” W. does not understand the totality of all uses or modes of use of a word within a language. A word can have several meanings while there can, of course, only one totality of use.
But nor does “use” mean the specific individual use of a word. We are continually using the words of our language in new combinations, we are continually constructing new expressions and propositions with them, repeatedly using them in new situations. If one wanted to draw up a list of the uses of a word in this sense, one would have to enumerate an interminable number of propositions and contexts. W. obviously does not mean this kind of word usage when he says that the meaning of a word consists of its use. Otherwise every word would have a multiplicity of meanings corresponding to the immense number of individual uses.
The false and accidental use of a word must
also be excluded. If one uses a word falsely this does not constitue a further
meaning of the word. Something similar is true of accidental uses, as for
example when a parrot calls out its name.
However a number of regular modes of use can be distinguished amomng the limitlessly many individual uses of a word or sign; in other words, definite, for the most part implicit, rules underlie the various modes of use. In equating meaning and use, W. always thinks of the modes of use of a word or sign, laid down by rules, implicit or explicit. Insofar as these modes of uses, laid down by rules, are normal or accepted in a definite linguistic community, one speaks of “linguistic usage”, in the second sense distinguished above. But it is not necessary for constitution of meaning that the rules of usage concened be normal in the linguistic community; they can also be laid down on occasion by means of dictionaries etc. ››