The Missing Word

By Eli Rejwan

April 9, 2001

The word that would have a prominent place in every language if it did not defy the attempts to create it.


The missing word would mean: "all humans can unknowingly become biased when self interest is involved".

The word in relation to conflicts

Conflicts often occur because of self interest. The parties in a conflict make opposing claims, the usual causes being:

  1. One or more of the parties intentionally make invalid claims.
    We have the words: selfishness, greed, egoism.

  2. Mental incapacity of one or more of the parties:
    We can say: Ignorance, confusion, incompetence.

  3. Bias. The type of bias towards self interest that one is not aware of. It occurs even though an effort is made for fairness.Nobody is immune.
    The word for it is missing!

The third cause of disagreements is the phenomenon where people who are able to make impartial judgements when self interest is not a factor, but unknowingly become biased when self interest is involved. They genuinely believe in the impartiality of their judgements.

It is part of human nature

Something within us deceives us for our own benefit. It was brought about by evolution. There is no name for this phenomenon. Why is it that we do not have a name for such an important aspect of our behavior ?

Presumably some technical names exist in specialized scientific literature and dictionaries. What matters is that no name appears in ordinary dictionaries or used in the daily spoken language.

The bias can be extensive in group self interest, such as between nations, when the error is reinforced by exchange of opinion with other members of the group.

Importance of the word

We need to be convinced that the missing word deserves to exist. Here are some common place situations where the missing word may be relevant and helpful:

A worker feels is underpaid in comparison to fellow workers.

Two kids arguing 'you took a larger piece of the pie' or 'you pushed me'.

Opponents at court of law, each interpreting the law to suit own interests.

Government bureaucrat sympathetic to more taxes, in favor of expansion of the bureaucracy. Taxpayer has the opposite feelings. They exchange role and the feelings change. They look back and cannot notice the change.

Doctors are convinced they deserve higher fees.

Some of these biases are intended, for which we have the descriptive words. The missing word be applicable to the remaining numerous cases where the claimant's belief is honest.

Let us consider these three close concepts for which we have names: pride, confusion and envy. We make use of them to describe our own and other people's condition, either as present time condition or past condition when we were unaware of them. We say 'I felt proud I did it', 'My mistake was the result of a confusion', 'I envy his ability ..'. These are frequently used words. It is clear that the missing word would be used more frequently if it existed.

Applies to everybody

This phenomenon is so common that it is obvious the missing word applies to all humans. However, if we search our memories we find no cases where it happened to ourselves. The missing word, if it existed, would mean "it can happens to all, including myself".

Some words influence our mentality. This missing word, if it was in common use, would have considerable impact on our social interaction. When arguing our case, the name of the phenomenon would flash in our minds, we would be reminded that our judgement is not completely reliable in the circumstances, we would reconsider our arguments and the opposing arguments, and might even introduce a deliberate correction. The human body makes use of corrective adjustments in many areas. We are aware of some of them.

We cannot assign a word

It may seem that there is advantage in assigning a name for this bias, encouraging its use in the spoken language and its inclusion in dictionaries. The expected effect is a reduction in the number of cases going to court, more pleasant social attitude, less civil wars.

I believe this is not what would happen. The same mysterious influence that distorts our perception of impartial judgement will come into play. It will prevent us from remembering the meaning of the newly adopted word!

The dictionaries will say: 'initially the word meant ...' because the new word will soon shift in meaning to the variety of intentional bias or to incapable minds or both, and will be confined to mean that 'others have this problem, never me'. The phenomenon will again be without a name!

The reason it is missing

In reality our failure to retain the word is due our inability to create in our minds the concept needed to support the word. The missing word is unique in this respect. We are aware of the ease with which we can assign a new word to any object, real or abstract, and we know we can get it to be widely used if we have the resources to promote it. In the rare cases we might have slight difficulty with the concept. But for this single missing word nature appears to be adamant in preventing us from forming the concept.

If you feel you know now what the missing word stands for then try this experiment.

In a day or two make an attempt to remember. You will know it was about a missing word, but you may be wondering why all those other words were found inadequate.

Missing in all languages

I am confident that this phenomenon does not have a name in current use in any language. My extensive search confirms this.

We think of a language as an extensive collection of words smoothly laid out to cover anything we can visualize or think of, down to the small nuances. I am claiming there is a hole in the smooth coverage, a hole which cannot be repaired.

What does concept mean?

The use of the word 'concept' here needs some explanation. It is not an easy task, and will have to lead me to a discussion beyond the topic of the missing word. In the past few years I wrote some articles which can be found in and which make the definition of 'concept' much easier.

Life has only one code system in use, each item in this code relate to some biological ability that life developed in its evolution. Combination of these 'words' can describe any information conceivable. The genetic code is contained in such combinations, and details of any word in our own languages can exist only if recorded in these biological 'words'.

There is no difficulty whatever in using the code: our complete memory is coded in them. The missing word is an exception because of nature's denial of the intent of the word, nature wants to control us. When I say the concept is missing I mean the biological description of the word was made intentionally unavailable to us. Our attempts returns to us the details of page where we read about the word, all the details of the arguments, but instead of the word we seem to encounter a 'black hole'. A comparison between our attempt to remember the missing word and other ordinary words will show a sharp contrast, which clarifies the intended meaning of the word concept as used here.

Any comments ? Yes, click here

home page Home