is a meaningless noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...
that is used in the phrase "the gostak distims the doshes", an example of how it is possible to derive meaning from the syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....
of a sentence even if the referents of the terms are entirely unknown. This can be seen in the following dialogue:
- Q: What is the gostak?
- A: The gostak is that which distims the doshes.
- Q: What's distimming?
- A: Distimming is that which the gostak does to the doshes.
- Q: Okay, but what are doshes?
- A: The doshes are what the gostak distims.
In this case, it is possible to describe the relationship
In set theory and logic, a relation is a property that assigns truth values to k-tuples of individuals. Typically, the property describes a possible connection between the components of a k-tuple...
s between the terms in the sentence — that the gostak is that which distims the doshes, that distimming is what the gostak does to the doshes, and so on — even though there is no fact of the matter about what a gostak or doshes actually are.
The phrase was coined in 1903 by Andrew Ingraham
Andrew Ingraham was Headmaster of Swain School before 1903.He is credited with the invention of the Gostak concept. He also edited various prefaces to standard literary texts....
but is best known through its quotation in 1923 by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards
Ivor Armstrong Richards was an influential English literary critic and rhetorician....
in their book The Meaning of Meaning
Although the original text was published in 1923 it has been used as a textbook in many fields including linguistics, philosophy, language, cognitive science and most recently semantics. The book has been in print continuously since 1923. The most recent edition is the critical edition prepared...
(p. 46). Ogden and Richards refer to Ingraham as an "able but little known writer", and quote his following dialogue:
- "Suppose someone to assert: The gostak distims the doshes. You do not know what this means; nor do I. But if we assume that it is English, we know that the doshes are distimmed by the gostak. We know too that one distimmer of doshes is a gostak. If, moreover, the doshes are galloons, we know that some galloons are distimmed by the gostak. And so we may go on, and so we often do go on."
In science fiction
In Amazing Stories
Amazing Stories was an American science fiction magazine launched in April 1926 by Hugo Gernsback's Experimenter Publishing. It was the first magazine devoted solely to science fiction...
, Dr. Miles Breuer wrote a story, now considered a classic, titled "The Gostak and the Doshes" whose protagonist pops into an alternate world in which the phrase is a political slogan that induces sufficient umbrage throughout the populace to declare justified, righteous war. Other writers have picked up on the reference, notably David Gerrold
Jerrold David Friedman , better known by his pen name David Gerrold, is an American science fiction author who started his career in 1966 while a college student by submitting an unsolicited story outline for the television series Star Trek. He was invited to submit several premises, and the one...
In interactive fiction
The phrase is the namesake of an interactive fiction
Interactive fiction, often abbreviated IF, describes software simulating environments in which players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment. Works in this form can be understood as literary narratives and as video games. In common usage, the term refers to text...
game called The Gostak
, written by Carl Muckenhoupt. Most of the text of the game is in an entirely unknown language (fundamentally English in syntax and grammar, but with much of the vocabulary and even idiomatic constructions changed) which the player must decipher. For example, the game opens with the following text:
- "Finally, here you are. At the delcot of tondam, where doshes deave. But the doshery lutt is crenned with glauds.
- Glauds! How rorm it would be to pell back to the bewl and distunk them, distunk the whole delcot, let the drokes discren them."
won the 2001 XYZZY Award
The XYZZY Awards are an event to recognize extraordinary interactive fiction, serving a similar role to the Academy Awards or Grammy Awards but for a far smaller community. The XYZZY Awards have been presented yearly in the early spring since 1996 by Eileen Mullin, the editor of XYZZYnews...
s for Best Use of Medium and Best Individual Puzzle.
"The Gostak Distims the Doshes" is a three movement sonata for prepared piano
A prepared piano is a piano that has had its sound altered by placing objects between or on the strings or on the hammers or dampers....
composed by Hiawatha in 1984. The three movements are: I. Doshes ; II. Distimming ; III. The Gostak
The piece is in the collection of the Knight Library of the University of Oregon.
- Philosophy of language
Philosophy of language is the reasoned inquiry into the nature, origins, and usage of language. As a topic, the philosophy of language for analytic philosophers is concerned with four central problems: the nature of meaning, language use, language cognition, and the relationship between language...
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....
"Jabberwocky" is a nonsense verse poem written by Lewis Carroll in his 1872 novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, a sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland...
- Colorless green ideas sleep furiously
"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" is a sentence composed by Noam Chomsky in his 1957 Syntactic Structures as an example of a sentence that is grammatically correct but semantically nonsensical. The term was originally used in his 1955 thesis "Logical Structures of Linguistic Theory"...
- Glokaya kuzdra
Glokaya kuzdra is a reference to a meaningless but grammatically correct Russian language phrase, similar to the English language phrase "Gostak". It was suggested by Russian linguist Lev Shcherba. The full phrase is: "Гло́кая ку́здра ште́ко будлану́ла бо́кра и кудря́чит бокрёнка"...