Jan 13, 2017

Things and Stuff

George Carlin had a great bit about Stuff. He talked about his stuff, your stuff and everybody's stuff LINK. He talked about stuff, but he neglected to mention things.
We distinguish between these two classes of existence. We can count things, but stuff forms a sort of cumulative mass. Things are made of stuff (cars are made of steel), but stuff is made of things (gold is made of molecules).

Chairs, dogs, balloons, and flowers are things. If I have one dog and add another, I have two dogs. My chair did not exist until it was assembled into that form. If a balloon pops, it is no longer a balloon.

Helium, gravy, wood, and music are stuff. If some helium escapes my balloon, it seems wrong to say that I lost a thing. If I divide my gravy into two portions, it is still gravy. If I chop my cabin into firewood, the amount of wood in the world has not changed.

Linguistically, we distinguish between thing terms and stuff terms, where a thing is a count noun, and stuff is a mass noun. Syntactically, thing functions as a term that refers to a single "entity" and hence takes "a" and "every" and is subject to pluralization, while stuff functions refers to a plurality of "entities" and hence takes some and is not subject to pluralization. Bottom line, we have some things and some stuff.

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