“The point here is that the idea of a Private Language, like Private Colors and most of the other solipsistic conceits with which this particular reviewer has various times been afflicted, is both deluded and demonstrably false.

“In the case of Private Language, the delusion is usually based on the belief that a word such as pain has the meaning it does because it is somehow “connected” to a feeling in my knee. But as Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations proved in the 1950s, words actually have the meanings they do because of certain rules and verification tests that are imposed on us from outside our own subjectivities, viz., by the community in which we have to get along and communicate with other people. Wittgenstein’s argument, which is admittedly very complex and gnomic and opaque, basically centers on the fact that a word like pain means what it does for me because of the way the community I’m part of tacitly agreed to use pain.

“If you’re thinking that all this seems not only abstract but also pretty irrelevant to the Usage Wars or to anything you have any real interest in at all, you are very much mistaken. If words’ meanings depend on transpersonal rules and these rules on community consensus, language is not only conceptually non-Private but also irreducibly public, political, and ideological. This means that questions about our national consensus on grammar and usage are actually bound up with every last social issue that millennial America’s about—class, race, gender, morality, tolerance, pluralism, cohesion, equality, fairness, money:  You name it.”

– David Foster Wallace, from his essay “Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage” (via The Partially Examined Life).