You can't handle the truth

Peter
Peter Jackson
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Every now and then, self-appointed wordsmiths such as myself like to sit back and ponder annoying words and phrases that creep into the daily dialogue from time to time.

One of our current favourites is the term, "on a go-forward basis."

As far as I can tell, this gem replaces the much simpler "from now on," although the new phrase adds a deeper layer of meaning - that of avoiding culpability. If you're only going forward, you're not looking back at past mistakes. "Don't expect any retroactive pay out of this," is the implied message.

Every now and then, self-appointed wordsmiths such as myself like to sit back and ponder annoying words and phrases that creep into the daily dialogue from time to time.

One of our current favourites is the term, "on a go-forward basis."

As far as I can tell, this gem replaces the much simpler "from now on," although the new phrase adds a deeper layer of meaning - that of avoiding culpability. If you're only going forward, you're not looking back at past mistakes. "Don't expect any retroactive pay out of this," is the implied message.

My own favourite catch-phrase these days is, "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Our premier has a particular penchant for this line, although one hears it in all circles.

It is a withering dismissal with a tangible air of finality.

"You couldn't be more wrong" is its corollary. The person at whom it's directed is left in a state of shame and confusion. "How could I have been so far off the mark?" - as far off as is possible, in fact.

There is a mathematical connotation here. Truth, after all, is a sort of asymptote, a value that one can infinitely approach but never quite reach - like the perfect lawn or a perfect cup of tea.

That's all fine, but the mathematical model starts to fall apart when you consider the other side of the equation.

One would think "falsehood" is the opposite of "truth," but the quantity in this equation turns out to be some sort of super falsehood,

If we take the X axis to represent "all things," then from our understanding of the space-time continuum, X is infinite. If a certain point on that axis represents the truth, then the furthest thing from that point would be infinitely far away.

Only infinity could be "further from the truth" than everything else, and infinity is a non-quantifiable value. Therefore, the original proposition that elicited the "further from the truth" response cannot even exist within the bounds of human perception.

And now, your head hurts. I will take a different tack.

Perhaps we need to remove ourselves from the spatial realm altogether. After all, our phrase seems more like a premise in some sort of a metaphysical argument.

Consider St. Anselm of Canterbury (c.1033-1109).

Anselm attempted to prove the existence of God through pure reason.

First, he defined God as "that than which no greater can be conceived."

If God didn't exist, Anselm argued, then one could conceive of such a superior entity that does exist, which would be greater. Therefore, God necessarily exists if he is to be "that than which no greater can be conceived."

These are no ordinary superlatives, mind you. Your butcher may come up with the "most succulent" lamb shanks ever, but that's really a temporal judgment. We're into more cosmic matters here.

Before you reach for the Tylenol again, consider this: among the most common equivalents for God cited in Christian liturgy - including "great" and "good" and "love" - is "truth." God is truth.

Now, back to our phrase. If "nothing could be further from the truth," and if "God is truth," then it follows that "nothing could be further from God."

Now we are raising the spectre of pure evil.

That proposition? The one than which "nothing could be further from the truth."? Well, that's the Prince of Darkness speaking!

So, to summarize, this entity that's infinitely detached from the truth is either: a) something that can't be quantified, or b) the work of the antichrist.

Either way, the message is clear: you're in the wrong ballpark, bucko.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Canterbury

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