Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Sayings, proverbs, expressions, and idiomatic phrases can be sources of phenomenological meaning.

Sayings and idiomatic phrases can be helpful sources for phenomenological meaning. They may reveal something about the experience they are used to describe. For example, of the experience of reading we may say that someone is “lost in a book.” But what does this expression reveal? Is the reader truly lost? While absorbed in a book a reader may lose her sense of time, place, body, etc. Who has not had the experience of showing up late for supper, an appointment, or missing a bus stop because of being lost in a book? But in another sense, the reader who is lost in a story is not lost at all. We may be temporarily “absorbed” in a different world, but the reader lacks nothing, misses nothing, needs nothing; that is perhaps why the reading experience is so absorbing. The person who is much more nearly lost is the one who observes the other to be lost in the act of reading. Indeed, when someone says of his companion that she is lost in a book, then he is the one who experiences a loss, namely the attentive presence of his companion. The expression “she is absorbed in a book” can show us more clues of the nature of the reading experience. It raises the question of the meaning of the sense of spatiality that belongs to the text. What is the nature of reading space? And how is the experience of this space related to the experience of the space where we see the reader sitting while submerged in the book? What is it about a space that makes it a good place to read? And what is the nature of the time experience and the experience of one’s body in those different dimensions?

Further, the language of secrecy possesses a wide array of vernacular terms and expressions which tend to reveal the difficulty of keeping secrets. To betray secrets is “to let slip, to spill, to reveal, or to divulge” secrets. We may inadvertently give away a secret by “letting on” (about something). The term “betray” derives from the Latin tradere: to deliver, to surrender, to give. It shares with other vernacular associations a moral dimension that comes into play when we hear about the intentional betrayal of secrets: “to tattle, blab, squeal, squeak.” a betrayer is an “informer, a fink, narc, squealer, stool pigeon, talebearer, tattletale, tattler, snitch.” Secrecy is surrounded with many expressions such as “no snitching here!” “don’t tell tales (on others).”