I'm looking for the name of a concept in, I think, philosophy of language, or perhaps rhetoric.

So, a colleague once made a comment something like, "If you give something a name, it becomes a thing." I don't think those are his precise words, and he may have been quoting someone else, but the context was that of some discussion in which another person seemed to be trying to give, to some hitherto unconnected phenomena, more significance than anyone had given them up until then. And he was doing it by inventing/applying a name or phrase for the group of phenomena. Or perhaps more accurately, the most immediate result of him applying a name to the group of phenomena was to get everyone else to see that they were in fact a group.

Now I don't know what the word or phrase was in that instance, but some other examples, off the top of my head, might be: the deep state; the luminiferous ether; and any proposed medical condition the name of which contains the word "syndrome".

All of those denote concepts that may or may not be real/significant, but whose appearance of reality or significance is very much increased by the simple fact that they have indeed been given names.

Sorry to be so vague, but maybe someone will catch my drift. If so, my question is: what exactly is that process -- that "reification by naming", say? Has it, itself, been given a name? If I want to find out more about it, then where -- in which fields of study -- might I try looking?

  • 1
    The process is called "nominalization" in linguistics, but the quote has it exactly backwards, nominalizing some perceived commonality does not make it a thing. At best, it starts an inquiry into it, see Cocchiarella, On the Logic of Nominalized Predicates and Its Philosophical Interpretations. Scholastics, and later Perice, called what comes out of nominalization (under the right conditions) ens rationis, beings of reason, see Novotny's book.
    – Conifold
    Oct 24, 2022 at 4:49
  • How can you give it a name if it isn't already a thing? What is the name being applied to? Oct 24, 2022 at 6:00
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    It depends of what is "a thing"... if we mean an existing object, the answer is no: humans are accustomed to speak of non existing objects. Oct 24, 2022 at 6:53
  • "The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of ten thousand things." -TaoTeChing. The cognitive bias of 'chunking' phenomena is discussed here philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/70930/…
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 24, 2022 at 23:34


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