It’s just semantics …

When two people are arguing, it’s quite common to hear one of them say ‘that’s just semantics’.

I find that expression slightly curious. Speakers tend to mean ‘you’re arguing about words, not about substance’. It seems the word semantics has acquired a folk meaning ‘sterile, pointless and pedantic, relating to words, not to the real world’.

But it seems odd to use the word semantics so dismissively in rejecting someone else’s point. Semantics is about meaning. If people are arguing about something important, isn’t meaning the thing they should be talking about?  

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