Friday, September 30, 2011

My Brother, Michael Jordan, and Signification

“Hey, Bekah! Watch my mojo!” This was the greeting my 12-year-old brother gave me when I came home today while he was playing basketball. Ben ran up towards the basket and did a sort of hook-shot type thing, sinking the ball into the basket with nothing but net. I congratulated him and walked inside. After dinner, he, my Dad, and I went back outside to play more basketball. Ben made some good shots, and I missed 95% of my attempted shots. Then Ben again asked me to watch, as he made a particular basketball shot, and again said something about “mojo.” I asked Ben exactly what “mojo” is, and in a typical not-so-articulate middle school guy way, he said, “You know, mojo,” and shot another basket. I asked if it was a type of shot, and Ben rolled his eyes at my obvious cluelessness and said no. “Does it have anything to do with Michael Jordan?” I asked, thinking that was what the “MJ” in mojo might stand for. Ben shook his head and gave me the, “you are so out of it” look.

Locke writes, “The imperfection of words is the doubtfulness or ambiguity of their signification, which is caused by the sort of ideas that they stand for” (817). The basketball game with my brother demonstrates this: the word “mojo” was not having the same signification in my mind as in his. Apparently the idea of “mojo” is more complex than a one-to-one relationship with a certain object or action. Locke notes that far less exactness is required in “civil” (everyday) communication than is required for “philosophical” communication, because civil communication is less complex. I’m not sure this is true. “Mojo” is not an academic concept, but it is complex.

Locke writes that a mixed mode is an idea made up of several other complex and simple ideas (818). “Mojo” is a mixed mode. According to, “mojo” can mean, “Self-confidence, Self-assuredness. As in basis for belief in ones self in a situation. Esp. I[n] context of contest or display of skill.” Another definition is “Your cool/style essence.” So, mojo is made up of at least four or five abstract concept – self-confidence, self-assurance, “cool/style essence,” belief in one’s own skill, and probably even more, given its colloquial use. (I’m sure Locke is rolling in his grave at the lack of agreement on the signification of “mojo” on Locke writes that mixed mode significations cannot be known from the things themselves: one murder does not signify all (818), and similarly one persons “mojo” does not signify another’s. “Many parts of those complex ideas are not visible in the action itself” (818). This may be the reason that I could not get a signification of “mojo” from my brother’s basketball shot.

Interestingly, the OED also offers several (very different) definitions (or significations) of “mojo,” including magical power/voodoo, a Cuban marinade or sauce, and morphine. The standardization of this particular mixed mode in the OED did not set in stone the signification. Rather, the signification continued to develop beyond the established, formal use of the term. It does not seem that, as Locke would say, that the doubtfulness and ambiguity result from the ideas it stands for (817), but from changes in the use of the term and what the term signifies for different groups of people. Locke’s theory adds to my understanding of why my brother and I couldn’t come to a common signification of “mojo” but his theory breaks down at the point of understanding why a signification changes over time despite standardization of a certain term. To answer this question, perhaps a more recent theorist in the anti/signification realm might be necessary. Ideas, anyone?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.