KJ Hannah Greenberg

Explaining Communication (Ethics) via Semantic Screening

One cannot compose a theory that anyone will recognize as rhetorical without at least implying certain interpretations and judgments of rhetorical discourses, and one cannot compose rhetorical criticism without assuming, consciously or unconsciously, some theoretical frame of reference (Black, 132).

Assigning significance to discourse never happens in a vacuum. The current, overt, international display of antisemitism did not suddenly spring from someone’s head, per se, or from someone’s mouth.

See, at times, people operate from the principle that accounting for communication’s procedures and products can issue peace. Negotiations that end wars rely on this notion.

Other times, societies are disquieted by the above belief and regard typical perceptions as “mere bombast,” as considerations that must be silenced by “nonrhetorics” (Foucault, 1973, 286-289, and Greenberg 1984a and 1984b) such as violence. Hiring arrangements can rely on standard discourse whereas, conversely, hostage negotiations cannot.

Nonetheless, no matter what we presuppose about our ideas’ configuration and substance, we’re well guided to authenticate accounts that helps us cope with our experiences. After all is said and done, we best own our goings-on by gauging them.

Semantic screening, in particular, is useful for fathoming our conduct because this sieving separates words’ merit into distinct units. This scheme involves classifying vocabularies via the terms used to refer to them, that is, by approaching texts’ components through questions about their gist and then comparing the ensuing illuminations to voiced disparagements. In other words, this tool enables us to divorce expressed prestidigitation from actual objectivity. It’s not rocket science, for example, to realize that calls for pauses in the war in Gaza are actually calls for enabling the evil parties to rearm themselves.

More exactly, this instrument is helpful for at least four reasons. First, context is vital in communication. Frameworks around messages matter. “Hatikva” translated into English rouses positive feelings about Israel even when the song’s lyrics make more sense in Hebrew.

Subsequently derived hypotheses, vis-à-vis how conceptual categories shape our observations of actions are attractive; they reduce our overabundance of metarhetoric into discrete clusters contemporaneous with being able to acknowledge that “ethical inquiry…requires a broad outline or sketch aimed at generalities rather than particular instances, while logically [proceeding] according to probable more often than necessary premises and so [arriving] for the most part at only probable conclusions” (Eden, 35-36). We had to try to redeem the hostages. Yet, when we traded gunmen for Gilad Shalit, those very murderers were the individuals who led the massacre of October 7, 2023. It’s unreasonable to think, has v’shalom, that those malevolents won’t continue to kidnap our people and won’t continue to rape or otherwise brutalize the kidnappees at the same time as they insist that we empty our jails of their peers so that they can actualize more heinous feats.

Second, semantic screening is helpful in emphasizing the morality/meaning nexus. Words create or destroy worlds. We need additional, external reliability checks for rhetorical criticisms’ relevance. Despite the fact that innovation expands conceptual horizons, scholarly creativity, concerning the applicability of certain types of assessment, performs at the cost of paradigmatic consistency. Simply, so many talking heads have muttered about the “plight” of atrocious others while forgetting to mention that those monsters attacked us and slaughtered more than a thousand of our people.

More precisely, generative grammar, which tenders that established syntax is of chief metalinguistic importance, nevertheless fails to explain complex or detailed configurations and fails to answer for most relationship connotations. In the videos of hostages, cameras zoomed in on their faces concurrent with excluding images of the weapons trained on them.

Also true, few populaces bothered to deconstruct global equivocations. It seems that humankind’s inept at splitting falsehoods from truth when employing generative grammar. Viz., the sentence “Jews  (are who) I hate” is not different in quintessence from “I hate Jews.” Ironically, it’s computers, not people, who, more often than not, suggest corrections to our skewed words.

Similarly, cognitive grammar, which succeeds in reifying language’s form/function link via the use of axiomatic lexicon categories, fails to fully expound on emotive/collective influences on language. Fundamental, explanatory intent goes awry when count and noncount nouns are used interchangeably. It’s questionable, for instance, if one hostage’s life is worth releasing tens or hundreds of terrorists.

Next, idealized cognitive models do well in pairing figure with essence. Be that as it may, they aren’t commonly appreciated in view of their lack of parsimony (Lakoff, 1987, 486-488).

Villainous folks associate “kind Jews, who offer health care, employment, hand-me-downs, and friendship” with “adversary;” those baddies take advantage of the vulnerability “friendship” offers. There’s no veracity in this sort of metonymy.

Third, beyond the limits of perspective and language rules, many varieties of verbal valuation have problems because of their samples. In a lot of cases, vetted sections might be atypical, videlicet, might be polished works prepared for presentation or for other unordinary circumstances, and, as such, don’t really represent informal or general thought (Arnold, 62).

At best, textual analysis neglects to represent a period’s norms; it “merely reveal[s] the ethical convention of a literary tradition” (Pearson). To illustrate, Hamas claims that aid sent to Gaza goes to civilians, but deeper digging, literally, reveals it’s repeatedly usurped by the thugs’ leaders.

Fourth, a number of makes of semantic screening treat “prescription” as “ideal,”  “description” as “real,” and “metatheory” as “the tension between real and ideal,” which, in turn, causes those modes to yield to the fact/value model of the universe… create[ing] a “half-hearted pragmat[ism]” and “weak textual[ism]” (Bernstein, 199). That is, if delved into superficially, assemblages of words are positioned to disappear behind their casings. Exhibiting the distinguishing spirit of a culture

is not a process in which rhetors attempt to display only positive qualities, concealing those that may detract from prestige. Instead, [it] includes uncertainties, misgivings, and the admissions and appreciation of vulnerability. In involves rhetors’ willingness to show themselves as they are in the process of struggling, learning, and discovering an emerging knowledge—sometimes stumbling, often tentative (Foss, 23).

To wit, most persons protesting Israel’s right to defend herself “misremember” that “Palestine” is not an actual body of Arab denizens and that, many times over, during the last few decades, Israel offered her Arab inhabitants their own state only to have their bosses reject those offers. Hamas, the PLO, and related vile entities don’t want land; they want genocide. This rhetoric’s hidden conjectures ought to be recurrently exposed.

Equally, some orders of semantic screening shy from Enlightenment ideological baggage, from minimal fact/value distinctions. Philosophy might make a distinction between moral and aesthetic values, but not psychology. Consequently, this type of cataloging enjoys a great range of applicability. That is, when we elucidate raconteurs’ intent, their words take on clearer implications.

Overall, we’re able to discern that we are morally indebted to others and to larger moral codes. That is, the words’ circumstances  sways their connotations. Mussar from a respected rabbi is diametrically different from hate speech spewed by a butcher of babies and children.

The above notwithstanding, some species of semantic screening do reach beyond fallacious findings, do animate conceptualization behind documents  and do locate importance within documents. Every now and then, our media can be a beacon. There are, fortunately, influencers, who use mass and conventional vehicles to speak up, to point out the errors in reasoning in our enemies’ rhetoric.

Afterall, all assemblages of words, when examined carefully, can yield reliable data. Plainly, “more detailed goings-over” begin with definitions of key concepts, continue with interpretations of those concepts’ relevance, and conclude with hypotheses about how their relevancy shape our outlook on our interactions.

[C]orrespondence and coherence are essential to our goals of better understanding…Both should be part of our bag of methodological approaches. And [sic] both are essential to the modern iterative process of formulating a coherent theory from currently available knowledge, testing its correspondence with reality, [and] synthesizing the results…with other information to create a more comprehensive and coherent theory which is then tested[,] and the results further synthesized, etc. (Dawson  and Fredrick Gregory).

When we make the effort to use semantic screening to demystify the verbal noise flooding our channels, we improve our grasp of Truth. In the end, while it doesn’t really matter if genuineness gets recognized, it’s just nice when the nations share accountability.


Arnold, E. V. Roman Stoicism. Cambridge UP, 1911.

Bernstein, Richard J.  Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics and Praxis. Pennsylvania UP, 1983.

Black, Ed. “The Practice of Rhetorical Criticism.” Rhetorical Criticism: A Study in Method. Wisconsin UP, 1978.

Dawson, Neil V. and Fredrick Gregory. “Correspondence and coherence in science: A brief historical perspective” [sic]. Judgement and Decision Making. 4.2, Mar. 2009, 126-133. Accessed 22 Mar. 2022.

Eden, Kathy. Poetic and Legal Fiction in the Aristotelian Tradition. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986.

Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. 2nd ed. Waveland Press, 1996.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Ed. R.D. Laing. Vintage, 1973.

Greenberg, Karen Joy. “A Zen Approach to Epistemology: A Different Light on a Tired Topic of Communication Theory.” Eastern Communication Association. Rhetoric and Public Address Conference. Huntington, NY, 1984a.

_____. “Hebraic Rhetoric: A Neglected Fundamental Rhetoric.” Speech Communication    Association Convention, Chicago, IL. 1984b.

Lakoff, George. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. U Chicago P, 1987.

Pearson, Lionel. Popular Ethics in Ancient Greece. Stanford UP, 1962.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.