The Lumped Name Fallacy

The Lumped Name Fallacy

The Lumped Name Fallacy – Breaking Down Bill 101

Article and photo by Farnell Morisset 

This article is the first of a series of “Breaking Down” articles, in which author Farnell Morisset aims to examine abstract concepts which are misused or confused in the context of current social and political events.

In his absolutely brilliant book Ninteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell codified the absolutely brilliant concept of Newspeak, which sought to make intelligent political discourse impossible by removing the wording available to express complex social ideas.  A particularly poignant example of this was how the fictional new language lumped the words for “science” and “English Socialist Party” into the common word “Ingsoc”.  This made it difficult for the citizens of Oceania to formulate arguments against their government, since disagreeing with “Ingsoc” also meant (conceptually) disagreeing with the rational scientific method.  In short, this induced what I call the Lumped Name Fallacy*.

In short, the Lumped Name Fallacy is the logical fallacy (meaning incorrect logical reasoning) which mistakenly assumes that:

Poorly defined but separate concepts grouped within a term are inseparable from one another.

Or, in simpler words,

If different things have the same name, then they’re not different things.

The error in this thinking is easily seen when you take different things with individual names that can be grouped under a common name.  For instance, knives and spoons are both different types of cutlery.  Suppose I asked if you should let young children play with cutlery, you would be quick to specify that spoons are ok, but knives are not.  But what if we had no words to express the difference between a spoon and a knife?  Well, you’d either have to say that young children shouldn’t play with cutlery or get a lot of really weird looks.

So what does this have to do with the controversial Charte de la langue française, which the PQ promised to expand as part of its election platform?  Well, people are generally asked if they approve or oppose Bill 101 as a whole, despite the fact that even moderate inspection will have you realise that Bill 101 is actually a lot of radically different social ideas.

“And yet even in the Huron village, they still call it un stop.”

Some of these social ideas are generally easy to agree on.  Most people will generally agree, for instance, that it is socially desirable for all citizens to be able to understand each other using a common language, and live and work in this language, lest we run into a Babelesque inability to cooperate.  Most people also generally agree that the government should address its citizens in this same common language, to prevent the forming of a linguistic elite. Most people further agree that, in Québec, the overwhelming majority of people (94.5%, as of 2006) speak and understand French well enough that French makes for a good official language.  There are, of course, other points of contention as well, but next time you hear someone talking positively about Bill 101’s effect on signage clarity, don’t assume they also favour ethno-cultural segregation in accessibility to public schools.  In the future, when you think of Bill 101, instead of thinking about it as a single whole to be loved or reviled, rather think of Bill 101 as it applies to X, where X is whatever idea or concept you’re examining.

There are many other examples of this fallacy and people who knowingly or unknowingly abuse of it to hinder your critical thinking, lumping ideas together that should be considered separately under the same words.  Frequent examples include justice and sentencing, religion and fanaticism, and authority and power.

So keep an eye out in your own reasoning for the Lumped Name Fallacy, both when it comes to Bill 101 and life in general… and remember that when it comes to cutlery, knives should be kept away from little hands but spoons make for great baby pictures. 

* I completely made that name up.  This is the internet and I’m the writer – deal with it.

Other articles in the Breaking Down Bill 101 Series can be found here:

Breaking Down


About the author:

Born and raised in Québec City, Farnell Morisset attended English school throughout his primary, secondary, and CEGEP studies, before ultimately choosing to stay in Québec City and study civil engineering at Laval University.

While at Laval, he served as president of the civil engineering student association. It was there that he discovered his affinity for writing and commentary, preparing a weekly column in the student newspaper dealing with the issues he, as president of the association, felt were important and relevant.

Farnell is passionate about discussing (amongst other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québecois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québecois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image.

He is also alarmed by what seems to be an invasive and aggressive polarization of complex social issues for which there are no black-and-white answers. This eventual identity crisis, he feels, will only be solved through good faith in, and honest communication with, all sides pulling on our ever dwindling “pure laine” blanket.

It is with this in mind that he contributes to as a valued member of our, in-house, writing team.

Categories: News

About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset has an engineering degree from Université Laval and common law and civil law degrees from McGill University, where he also studied economics.


  1. jobp
    jobp 10 October, 2012, 15:17

    Great; Though I don’t really get your message. I detect some sarcasm, but trying to not see bill 101 as a whole is not possible for me. Obviously what’s right for one part of the population is not OK for another according to your photo. What about the words “discrimination” and “racial? Just sayin”!

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