Note: Originally, I asked this same question at Linguistics Stack Exchange, but they suggested that I post here instead.

In August 2022, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder did write the following:

It's a bad idea to analyze technical terms with linguistic logic

I asked her what she meant by "linguistic logic", but she did not reply. What is linguistic logic? Is it something like Russell's "The Philosophy of Logical Atomism"?

I am trying to understand if there is a logic used in language and another logic used in physics. And if the logical atom of languages is words or sentences.

  • 2
    It was an informal comment. Cleary what she meant is that you usually can't figure out the technical meaning of a term in physics by reasoning about it's normal meaning. There is no "linguistic logic" as a formal system; that was just her way of saying, "reasoning from dictionary definitions". Dec 22, 2022 at 3:38
  • "linguistic logic"? Maybe Logical form (linguistics). Dec 22, 2022 at 6:40
  • @DavidGudeman Yes, I think this is what she means. The “technical term” I was questioning was “rest mass”. Further research showed that “rest” here does not have its meaning in natural language, i.e. “lack of motion”. But curiously, “rest” in “rest mass”, as used in physics, does not have any meaning at all. "Rest" is not a technical term in this context, it is just a label. “Invariant mass, rest mass, intrinsic mass, proper mass” all mean the same thing. So, I still don't know if it is philosophically proper to use natural language to analyze physics jargon.
    – zeynel
    Dec 22, 2022 at 16:55
  • "Rest mass" comes historically from the measured mass of a macroscopic object in a reference frame at rest with respect to the object. Dec 22, 2022 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


Addressing your question: "if there is a logic used in language." The idea of trivium established in the past by Greek philosophers can help explain. In the order of "grammar, logic, and rhetoric," a person would study grammar in order to use a language at the elementary level, then study logic to group sentences with correct grammar into logical syllogisms. Through the syllogisms, one can then apply rhetoric to his arguments. In this sense, there is definitely logic in the language we use, otherwise we would be speaking non-sense most of the time, and only logical by chance of luck.

Science is based on language, a superset of the language used. All logical thinking, whether it is science or everyday linguistics is based on the same logic. The key point is, the new ideas and terms that science introduce are not of the original system, and careful definition is required to understand the science, or "technical" terms used.

The way I see it, Sabine merely presented a contradiction as a rhetorical device to hook the reader's attention. She is telling the author that pointed out said contradiction in a previous tweet to not think on assumed grounds. I would expect the later parts of the book to explain the terms to clarify any contradictions.

Hopefully this is of help.

  • 1
    This was very helpful, thanks.
    – zeynel
    Dec 25, 2022 at 18:35

According to the linked tweet, Sabine H is promoting her new book aimed at laypeople. Apparently, her informal description gives rise to a contradiction, but her formal one does not. Presumably, linguistic logic is the logic of her informal explanation, the technical terms are the formal.

There are many logics used in natural language.

  • Would it be correct to say that natural languages are based on Aristotelian logic?
    – zeynel
    Dec 22, 2022 at 16:38
  • 1
    @zeynel highly unlikely due to quantification-see,frege. then read on deixis and vagueness
    – Papuseme
    Dec 23, 2022 at 6:19

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