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Joined: February 28, 2014
Comments posted: 5
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This all just reminds me of the reasons why I am yet still a little hesitant to start using the word societal on a regular basis. I feel like it is always dangerous to make assumptions about large groups of people and statements made about societies as a whole are doing just that. How can we as individuals ever accurately access what is going on at the societal level? The statement "Cannot see the forest because of the all those trees" is exactly what comes to mind. Statements made by individuals about "perceived" societal biases will always be subjective, skewed by the biases of the individual. Statistics are the only way I can think of to begin to try to make statements about where society as a whole is going. A national vote is a statistical analysis of sort, so a society that votes regularly at least has some manner of determining the societal biases of the day based on the way the particular vote turned out. Aside from voting or publishing surveys, it is hard to really know for certain what is going on at the societal level, so maybe we should be careful in making statements about societal issues because if another individual disagrees with our assessment of the societal trend the conversation will be stunted. Either stunted or one or the other party will have no choice but to prove why their statements on society as a whole are true which usually leads to a derailing of some sort or other.

Rashad April 15, 2014, 3:10pm

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I don't think either of you is deliberately trying to derail the thread. I think we are looking at a genuine issue of language and miscommunication.

The more I consider it, I think it is rather difficult to discuss societal issues while avoiding politics altogether. Warsaw Will helped explain to me why "governmental" would not be a good synonym for the word societal...fine. But maybe the word "political" is in some cases. Our political views as a nation could be stated as our societal views. Or better stated: Don't our societal views shape and influence our national politics? Cannot our national politics affect our societal biases?

Indoctrination is an interesting consideration, as it proves that sometimes our societal biases can be handed down (taught) to our social circles, which are then handed back to our societal infrastructures. It can make it difficult or even impossible to determine where the original idea was born, at the social level or at the societal level, which I think gets to the point Rocky and Warsaw are discussing. I'd say you are both right, in that once an ideal reaches the societal level, it will have social impacts as well which make the chicken vs egg argument difficult to qualify.

Rashad April 15, 2014, 2:48pm

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The King sends out a message that he is looking for an Inventor. The Inventor he chooses becomes a Lord. All citizens are given 24 hours to prepare. One day passes.

Two Inventors now stand before the King.

The First Inventor states: "Last night I made a discovery that will have a huge social impact on our kingdom!"

The Second Inventor states: Last night I made a discovery that will have a huge societal impact on our kingdom!"

The King ponders the statements of the two Inventors, he then raises his hand. "Inventor One, you are dismissed."

As I attempt to better understand the distinction in these terms, I can possibly see an opportunity for some true clarification in an example such as the one above. If "social" is a code word for "interpersonal;" and "societal" is a code word for "governmental," then we've got a bingo moment.

I can accept that "social" for many people simply means interpersonal interactions between distinct individuals, such as saying hello and goodbye when you enter and exit a room. Practicing good manners is an example of a social decision, made solely by the individual on a case by case basis. Breaking it is merely breaking a social rule. No crime is committed, and no jail time would ensue.

Breaking a societal rule is different altogether. Societal rules tend to be represented as written laws and edicts, and likely carry consequences for those who fail to comply with them fully. Societal decisions are those we have collectively established and collectively enforced through a process called "governance."

And thus herein lies my issue with the word societal.

In the example above, the common people of the kingdom stand to gain a great deal from the First Inventor because it would in some way alter the way people would treat one another in everyday interactions. This may or may not eventually provide an indirect benefit to the King himself. This is a "trickle up" type of process. Not a sure thing from the King's perspective.

The King likely recognizes that the second Inventor has a plan that will in some way increase the kingdom's overall power starting up at the top, as he represents the head of society itself.

One inventor generates wealth for the people in a bottom-up fashion, the over inventor generates wealth for the power structure in a top-down fashion. Both are necessary approaches and they do affect one another dynamically. I can see that they may overlap but still remain distinct concepts.

In a word, I think I get it now...kinda

I would still argue that "societal" is not really the best or most specific word, when "governmental" is what societal actually means.

Again, thanks for your time.

Rashad March 31, 2014, 6:17pm

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I enjoyed reading your post. It was quite emotional, and I do apologize if I caused you any sort of distress. The fruit vs bananas argument was hilarious, thanks for that. I'll just accept that I'm a dense Red-neck (takes a lot of sun to redden my a person of color I never suspected I'd live long enough to be called such a thing) because I still don't get why we need this word.

What you don't seem to understand is that I am at least one example of a person who simply still doesn't get it, despite the many examples you think have been so clearly presented in this forum. I cannot be alone, so obviously there is some room for doubt for many people, even if we happen to be a minority.

Bananas vs fruit; lets talk about that for a moment. You present the word "Banana" as a more accurate and specific reference to a type of "fruit," therefore proving the word banana is necessary to the English Language. But if you notice, the word "banana" and the word "fruit" share no common spelling, they do not share the same root, and therefore are nearly impossible to misunderstand when one hears them. One definition does not require understanding of the other. One could describe a banana without knowing it qualified as a fruit at all. and vice versa...One could well know what a fruit is, but not yet be certain if a banana qualifies as one. These terms look different, they sound different, and they are indeed independent of one another, so the logic works as it should and there is clearly a necessity for the word banana.

"Social" and "societal" however, share the same gerund root. Based on your own definition, one cannot appreciate the value of the word "societal" if they do not already understand the value of the word "social." There is a dependence here, which you likely did not notice until I pointed it out. I'm not saying the word cannot be used, I am simply explaining why some people myself included still have a hard time understanding why this word which requires great dependence on another nearly identical word needs to exist in this manner.

The psychological profiling you conducted on me during your post was indeed the most interesting part of the post. You are correct, I personally do not like the word societal. The reason being that I once accidentally invented the word myself during a discussion. Yep, I too have used societal.

Before I knew it, years before I'd ever heard it, my mind had conjugated the word "societal" and used it in a sentence. Right around the time the word came out of my mouth the grammar police in my head started protesting that something about this word didn't seem right. I didn't sweat it, as I assumed I couldn't be the first person to poorly conjugate an adjective during a heated discussion, maybe nobody noticed is what I told myself.

Just because some guy a hundred years ago in a courtroom conjugated an adjective poorly and some stenographer wrote it down doesn't make it proper English today. Examples of words such as "aint," "finna" (short for fixing to), "gonna," "conversate," and a billion others have been used by lots of people in lots of situations, but the words are not necessary to the English language except to indicate some degree of education level by the speaker.

In short, I still don't get it. The words are too similar, and the ground they cover overlaps too much for a simple mind like mine to appreciate the significance. Just like some people think they need the term conversate to specify a short conversation, to me the word converse already covers the ground some people think conversate covers

I'm dumb I get it. I win the Darwin award again, I get it. I still think societal is an unnecessary term in 99% of situations. Perhaps I'm biased, I can concede that.

Anyhow, thanks for talking with me.

Rashad March 31, 2014, 4:55pm

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Another late comer...
I cringe when I hear the word societal. I've read the above comments in support of this word as a distinction but for the life of me I just don't see why we need the word societal. Social still works just fine.

We took Social Studies in high school, not Societal Studies which by the comments above should have been the name given for that course.

Clearly, it is a bastardization of the word "Society." Most words have multiple forms, such as plurals so that society becomes societies and so forth. Societal is the adjective equivalent to society. Fine. But then the word social covers the same ground already so the word is redundant and therefore distracting during a conversation.

Consider the statements below:
"Teenage pregnancy is a serious social problem."
"Teenage pregnancy is a serious societal problem."

The statements above demonstrate why the word societal is generally poor English. There are those who state that societal somehow elevates issues above merely social ones; almost as if localized problems are considered "social" while national issues are considered "societal." It becomes an issue of scale more than anything. For me, the word social already encompasses any sort of "shared" experience among people, be it a large group or a small one. I see no issue of scaling, and therefore, see no requirement for the word societal at all.

I guess what I'm saying is that for all the explanation above the fact still remains...those of us who have not learned to use societal don't miss the word, it doesn't strike us as something that was missing. We don't notice a vacancy needing to be filled.

People who use the term societal seem to think they need the term to be concise, so they use it which is fine. But what good is the word societal if truthfully no one knows what it actually means? At least to most listeners, the subtle meaning of societal is completely lost and confusing.

"Social" makes plenty of sense to the vast majority of people. If you use social instead of societal 99% of people will fully comprehend what you intend to say without any hesitation. The other way around...not so much.

Rashad February 28, 2014, 1:37am

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