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As long as language is treated as a grammar—a set of rules governing the relationship between the signifier and the signified, electronic programming is up to the task. But there are several elements of communication that lie outside “rules”—connotation, for example, or contemporary, shifting slang. But the most elusive of communication is irony. Irony’s formal definition is “What goes out as A comes back as non-A”; that is, “I am uttering A but, by doing, so I am meaning its opposite.” The intricacies of rhetorical speech are by definition not formulaic—are in fact the opposite of formula. How would a “program” make sense, for example, of “Fat chance”? Or how would a programmer catch the real communication in such a sentence as “That is a notion up with which I will not put.” (Shaw’s famous repudiation of the convention of prohibiting a preposition at the end of a sentence.) Thus, while computer programs are becoming more sophisticated every day, human meanings are proliferating faster.
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