Sam Harris, a renowned author, philosopher, and neuroscientist, is widely regarded as one of the most articulate and eloquent public intellectuals of our time.
During his podcast, Making Sense, Sam Harris’ vocabulary is on full display and a prime example of how he employs his broad grasp of the English language to make his discussions more engaging and thought-provoking for his listeners.
Harris’s mastery of language is evident from the very beginning of each episode. He starts by introducing the topic of discussion in a clear and concise manner, using words that are not only accurate but also interesting. Harris doesn’t shy away from using complex words, such as “epistemology” or “neurodiversity,” which helps listeners engage and seek to understand the ideas he’s presenting.
As a skilled storyteller, Harris uses language in a way that captivates his audience, and he provides vivid descriptions and metaphors to illustrate complex ideas.
For example, in a recent episode about moral luck, he compared our moral choices to playing a game of poker. He explained that just as in poker, we can make the right decisions but still lose due to factors beyond our control. This analogy not only made the concept of moral luck more accessible but also made it more memorable for listeners.
As an experienced meditator, Harris’s use of language also helps him to maintain a respectful and engaging tone when discussing controversial topics.
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He is not afraid to express his opinions or challenge his guests, but he always does so in a way that is thoughtful and considerate. He is able to articulate his arguments clearly and persuasively, without resorting to insults or ad hominem attacks.
This approach not only makes for a more civil and productive discussion but also allows listeners to form their own opinions based on the merits of the arguments presented.
In addition to his vocabulary and storytelling skills, Harris also has a knack for using language to create a sense of intimacy with his listeners. He speaks in a calm and measured tone, as if he is having a one-on-one conversation with each listener. He often uses personal anecdotes to illustrate his points or to connect with his audience on a more emotional level. This approach makes his podcast feel more like a conversation than a lecture, and it helps to build a strong connection between Harris and his listeners.
Below are some of examples of Sam Harris’ vocabulary, the meanings of the words and how he uses them:
Sam Harris sometimes uses the word perfunctory on his podcast.
Perfunctory describes the way someone performs an action without thinking about it… Usually in an apparently non-caring, lackadaisical way…
(of an action or gesture) carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection.
In using perfunctory in a sentence, you could say:
“Finally, she completed her new Facebook user registration with a perfunctory agreement to the social network’s Terms and Conditions.”
In episode 163 of the “Making Sense” podcast with Ricky Gervais, Sam Harris uses the term “midwifed”.
A midwife is a person, usually a woman, who is trained to assist a pregnant woman before and during childbirth.
According to Wiktionary, midwifed is the rare past tense, past-participle version of the noun “midwife”.
(rare) simple past tense and past participle of midwife.
In podcast episode 163, Sam refers to a famous Chris Rock skit and the controversy it brought forth as having been “midwifed”.
Sam uses the word equanimity quite often in his podcast, and most recently in episode #205 of “Making Sense” with Daniel Markovits.
equa·nim·i·ty | \ ˌē-kwə-ˈni-mə-tē , ˌe-kwə- \plural equanimities
- evenness of mind, especially under stress
- mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium.
- calmness of temperament; even-temperedness
- the quality of being calm and composed
To me, this word sums up Sam’s personality quite wonderfully, actually.
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Reductio Ad Absurdum
Meaning: A reduction to an absurdity; the refutation of a proposition by demonstrating the inevitably absurd conclusion to which it would logically lead.
In episode #206 of the Making Sense podcast with David Frum, Sam uses the term “reductio ad absurdum” while describing the idea that the Christian right would consider President Donald Trump an exemplar of what it claims to stand for.
Reductio ad absurdum, also known as “reductio argument” and “arguments ad absurdum” is a logical strategy to refute a claim by extending the logic of the opponent’s argument to the point of absurdity.
…The idea that the Christian right is behind this guy as though he were some apotheosis of their values, it’s a reductio ad absurdum of everything they pretend is their values… – Sam Harris
in·cho·ate | \ in-ˈkō-ət , ˈin-kə-ˌwāt \
Meaning: Imperfectly or not fully formed. Newly or being only partly in existence.
Sam Harris uses the word “inchoate” in episode #205 of the Making Sense podcast.
Sam uses the word as an adjective at 1:56.14 of episode #205 with Daniel Markovits when he qualifies a point he is making by saying, “…this is somewhat inchoate a concern”, meaning the concern is not a fully developed one.
Inchoate may also be used as a noun and a verb, according to Wiktionary.
inchoate (plural inchoates)
Meaning: A beginning, an immature start.
inchoate (third-person singular simple present inchoates, present participle inchoating, simple past and past participle inchoated)
Meanings: (transitive) To begin or start (something); (transitive) To cause or bring about; (intransitive) To make a start.
Meaning: The act of dividing (a country or territory) into small, quarrelsome, ineffectual parts. The act of splitting a large multicultural country apart into smaller, homogeneous groups that don’t get along. Balkanization is usually used as a political term, in the pejorative sense.
Sam Harris uses the word “balkanization” in episode #204 of the Making Sense podcast with Jonathan Haidt. Sam uses the word as a noun at 51:57 of uses the word in reference to how social media has led to a “balkanization of our epistemology“, particularly among the younger generations who have never lived without exposure to it.
The verb form of Balkanization is “Balkanize”.
The word Balkanization is rooted in the Balkan Peninsula, which was under single control by the Ottoman Empire until it was broken up into a number of smaller states in the early 20th century.
Meaning: Of or relating to anarchy. Lacking controlling rules or having no principles to give order. Describing a society with no government or weak government.
Anarchic is the adjective form of the noun “anarchy”. Confabulate may also be used as a noun, verb and adjective.
Sam Harris uses the word “anarchic” in episode #217 of the Making Sense Podcast “The New Religion of Anti-Racism” with John McWhorter.
con·fa·bu·la·tor·y | \ kən-ˈfa-byə-lə-ˌtȯr-ē \
Meaning: Informal, chatty, colloquial, conversational. If used in psychology, confabulatory refers to filling in gaps in one’s memory with fabrications one believes to be facts. A statement that one believes to be true, but is in fact “made up”, could be referred to as confabulatory.
Confabulatory is the adjective form of the verb confabulate. Confabulate may also be used as a noun, verb and adjective, according to The Free Dictionary.
Sam Harris uses the word “confabulatory” at 40:08 in episode #220 of the Making Sense Podcast “Welcome to the Cult Factory” with Tristan Harris. He describes someone who is a target of online advertising rationalizing a purchase in hindsight, “…whether it’s confabulatory or not…”
hi‧e‧ro‧pha‧ny | /hɪ.əˈɹɒ.fə.ni/
Meaning: The manifestation of the holy or sacred through a temporal object or being serving as a figure for worship.
Hierophany is from the Ancient Greek hierós, “sacred, holy sign” and phaínō, “show, appear”, and was possibly coined by Mircea Eliade, a Romanian religious historian and philosopher, in his book “The Sacred and the Profane”.
Sam Harris uses the word “hierophany” in episode #220 of the Making Sense Podcast “The Information Apocalypse” with Nina Schick.
cas·u·ist·ry | \ kaZHōōəstrē \
Meaning: The use of clever-sounding, but actually unsound reasoning, especially in relation to moral questions; sophistry; intellectual dishonesty. The word casuistry is derived from the Latin noun casus (“case” or “occurrence”)
Casuistry is a noun. Other derived forms include casuistic (adjective), casuistically (adverb) and casuist (noun).
Sam Harris uses the word “casuistry” roughly at minute 2:13 of episode #233, “A Conversation With Andrew Sullivan“, in the Making Sense Podcast.
Sam Harris’ vocabulary and broad grasp of the English language are key elements of what makes his Making Sense podcast so engaging and thought-provoking.
His ability to use language in a way that is clear, vivid, and respectful helps him to articulate complex ideas, connect with his audience, and maintain a productive tone when discussing controversial topics.
Whether you are a fan of meditation, philosophy, neuroscience, or just great conversation, Harris’s podcast is definitely worth a listen.