On Meaning: Verbal Implications vs. Non-Verbal Implications


At some point in your life, you may have wondered what “meaning” means.  Truth be told, it can mean a number of different things.  This post aims to help you understand some basic differences among the various meanings.


First of all, when talking about the word “meaning,” it is very helpful to throw the word “mean” out the window.  I prefer to use the word “imply.”  That is, when we refer to the meaning of something, we refer to what that thing implies.  We call that implied thing an “implication.”

Verbal Implications

Many times when we talk about the meaning of a word, we talk about verbal implications.  In layman’s terms, a verbal implication is another word, another phrase, a dictionary definition, etc., implied by the word.  So, for the word “human,” one possible verbal implication of that word is the phrase “featherless biped.”  (This is also called an intension of the word–with an s, not a t–but that word doesn’t invoke the notion of implication.)

Non-Verbal Implications

But not all words imply other words.  The meaning of a word can be non-verbal.  In fact, probably most meanings are non-verbal implications.  In layman’s terms, a non-verbal implication is anything implied by a word that is not other words.  For the word “human,” one possible non-verbal implication of that word is yourself, or me, or Aristotle, or Jackie Kennedy, or Barack Obama.

However, there are plenty of other kinds of non-verbal implications outside of representative examples for the word.  Another type of implication is a concept.  For the word “human,” the implication may be smart.  It may be polluter.  It may be subject to error.  Each of these are concepts that may be implied by the word “human.”  A concept, in layman’s terms, is a notion or thought implied by the word.

But even a feeling can be a non-verbal implication.  A feeling is something conceptually different from a concept, though at times they may be decidedly overlapping.  In layman’s terms, a feeling is a physical experience implied by a word.

This means that what Alfred Korzybski called “semantic reactions”–total-body responses to words, etc.–counts as non-verbal implications.  If I say the word “lemon,” and your mouth starts to water, your watering mouth is an implication of the word (a semantic reaction). That implication is non-verbal.

Non-Verbal Impliers

In truth, words aren’t the only initiators of meaning.  You can find meaning in non-verbal events (i.e., non-words) and thus experience implications.

If you think of, say, a tragic family event, this is a non-verbal event.  You will perhaps have thoughts and feelings related to the memory; these are non-verbal implications.  You might tear up; this is a non-verbal implication.  You might say “It was hell”; this is a verbal implication.

This is to say that both verbal and non-verbal impliers have implications, and that nearly anything you experience–fact or fiction–can have implications.  This is to say that nearly anything you experience can have a psycho-somatic effect on your body, even if it is just the submicroscopic level below your sensitivity.  You might never be aware of the implications of verbal and non-verbal events on your mind-body.

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