Autological word

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An autological word (also called homological word)[1] is a word that expresses a property that it also possesses (e.g., "word" is a word, "noun" is a noun, "English" is an English word, "pentasyllabic" has five syllables, and "writable" is writable). The opposite is a heterological word, one that does not apply to itself (e.g. the word "long" is not long, "monosyllabic" has more than one syllable, "dactyl" is not a dactyl, and "misspelled" is not misspelled.)

Unlike more general concepts of autology and self-reference, this particular distinction and opposition of "autological" and "heterological words" is uncommon in linguistics for describing linguistic phenomena or classes of words, but is current in logic and philosophy where it was introduced by Kurt Grelling and Leonard Nelson for describing a semantic paradox, later known as Grelling's paradox or the Grelling–Nelson paradox.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "homological", The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (2005), ed. Simon Blackburn, 2nd edition. Oxford University Press
  2. ^ Grelling and Nelson used the following definition when first publishing their paradox in 1908: "Let φ(M) be the word that denotes the concept defining M. This word is either an element of M or not. In the first case we will call it 'autological', in the second 'heterological'." (Peckhaus 1995, p. 269). An earlier version of Grelling's paradox had been presented by Nelson in a letter to Gerhard Hessenberg on 28 May 1907, where "heterological" is not yet used and "autological words" are defined as "words that fall under the concepts denoted by them" (Peckhaus 1995, p. 277)

Further reading[edit]

  • Volker Peckhaus: The Genesis of Grelling's Paradox, in: Ingolf Max / Werner Stelzner (eds.), Logik und Mathematik: Frege-Kolloquium Jena 1993, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1995 (Perspektiven der analytischen Philosophie, 5), pp. 269–280
  • Simon Blackburn: The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed. Oxford 2005, p. 30 ("autological"), p. 170 ("heterological"), p. 156 ("Grelling's paradox")

External links[edit]