1. nile mind

    nile mind New Member

    May 1, 2011
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    Texts that are hard to understand?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by nile mind, May 23, 2011.

    There are some articles that I found hard to understand for me. I do not know if texts can really be rated as hard, medium, or easy to be read or understood. But if they're really are, I would like to know how to comprehend those which are hard or medium.

    I can hardly understand a phrase like,"The end does not justify the mean." This is a famous phrase, but I don't know exactly what does this mean.

    I'm not an American or British that has a, if not great, good command or knowledge of English. But I would like to understand phrases like this.
  2. arron89

    arron89 Banned

    Oct 10, 2008
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    'The end justifies the means' is simple enough, although the language is a little outdated. It just means that the result makes all the effort it took worth it, or something to that effect.

    But in general, you'd probably need to invest in a dictionary of idioms and work your way through it if you wanted to understand more of them, especially since a lot of them can't be worked out just by breaking them down.
  3. psychotick

    psychotick Contributor Contributor

    Feb 10, 2011
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    Rotorua, New Zealand

    The end does not justify the means is actually a philosophical / ethical position, which basically says that you can't use the end result of an action to justify the action itself.

    So say you had fifteen people sitting on life support waiting for vital organs, and one healthy person who could give them all life. Mathematically killing him and harvesting his organs is good, you get fifteen lives saved for the loss of one. But still you can't justify taking that one life in order to save others. You have to justify / determine the value of your actions based on not what you hope the outcomes will be, but rather on the merits of the action itself.

    Google it or look up Philosophy Forums (now once more joyfully returned to the living cyber world), and you'll find endless discussions on this one saying.

    1 person likes this.
  4. Trilby

    Trilby Contributor Contributor

    Jun 21, 2010
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    NE England
    I agree with the above.

    If you get a positive result from an unjust action, then 'the end result does not justify the means the means that were stooped to to achieve that result
  5. Islander

    Islander Contributor Contributor

    Jul 29, 2008
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    The only way I can think of, is to read a lot and pick up the meanings from context.
  6. James Scarborough

    James Scarborough New Member

    May 17, 2011
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    San Jose, Costa Rica (Central America)
    Expressions like this are known as "idioms". An idiom is a phrase that can't be understood from the meaning of the individual words. Every language and culture has them and they are among the most difficult aspects of learning a second language. Many idioms don't even make sense to native speakers unless they have been explained or the meaning can be understood from the context.

    For example, I might tell you that once you learn how to identify idioms, and to look up their meanings and practice using them, you'll eventually "get the hang of it." This is another example of an idiom that doesn't make any sense at all from the meaning of the individual words. However, from the context it should be clear that "to get the hang of" something means to understand it and learn how to do it.

    When you're studying a foreign language, it's a good idea to try to learn some of the most common idioms. Others you'll have to "figure out" (an idiom), as you "run into them" (another idiom). There are many lists of English language idioms on ESL/EFL websites that you can study, such as this one: http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/.

    For individual idioms, you can try looking them up with Google. In your example, the correct expression is "the end doesn't justify the means" (plural). This is the negative form of the expression. You'll also "run across" (another idiom) this expression as a positive, "the end justifies the means". It doesn't matter which form you type in Google. You'll find definitions and explanations.
  7. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    it's not an 'idiom'... what you described is one, but the saying the op is asking about is an 'adage' or 'aphorism'... or 'axiom' which may be why you confused it with an 'idiom'... look them up...
  8. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    The problem you are having understanding it is probably because the words end and means (not mean) are using less common definitions.

    The word end in this context is the outcome or result, not the terminus. And the word means in this case refers to the method or process of reaching a goal.

    So the overall meaning is that the outcome justifies the method used to get there, and it refers to methods that are normally considered unsavory or unethical.

    For example, killing is considered wrong, but the removal of a dangerous threat (such as Osama bin Laden) may be considered by some a justification for killing. (I'm not debating whether it in fact WAS justified, but it is an example where the phrase might be applied).

    So your only recourse may be to expand your vocabulary. English may be more difficult than some other languages in this regard, but many words have a variety of very different meanings.

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