Just an observation at this point. I’m wondering whether this strikes others the same way…
Set-up: Suppose a speaker asserts, “It’s raining,” and elsewhere another speaker states, “Bill is short.” And suppose each is asked what they meant by that. We’ll suppose the questioner in each case gives a brief menu of options from which the speaker can choose, or the speaker can supply her own explanation: “Wha’dya mean ‘It’s raining’? Do you mean that it’s raining in London, or that it’s raining in Paris, or what?”, “Wha’dya mean ‘Bill is short’? Do you mean that Bill is short for a man, or that he’s short for a basketball player, or short for an NBA center, or what?”
The observation involves answers that the original speakers can give to these questions. It seems to me that in the “short” case, we’re relatively tolerant of this kind of answer: “You know, I didn’t have anything particular in mind. It just struck me that he was short, and that’s all I was saying. I really wasn’t thinking about it in any terms more specific than that.” By comparison, it seems to me much more puzzling and much less satisfactory for the speaker in the “raining” example to respond: “You know, I didn’t have any particular location in mind. It just struck me that it was raining, and that’s all I was saying. I really wasn’t thinking about it in any terms more specific than that.”
Of course, we’re tolerant if the speaker claims not to have a very precise idea of the exact extent of the location she was talking about — someone who says they weren’t meaning anything specific enough to distinguish whether they were talking about London from their speaking of a particular area of London, for example. Likewise, it’s no big deal if they meant to be referring to their own location (“I meant that it was raining here“), but just hadn’t given any thought to how far out they intended that “here” to reach. But it’s mystifying if they claim not to have any thoughts at all about what location they were talking about. (“Did you mean that it was raining where you were?” “No, like I said, I didn’t have any particular location in mind. It just struck me that it was raining, and I wasn’t thinking about any particular location, not even my own location.”) Comparatively, it doesn’t seem as problematic if the speaker in the “short” case claims not have had any particular thoughts about the comparison class relative to which they were saying that Bill was short (that’s for believers in the “for an F” myth), or, more generally, about the standards relative to which they meant to be using “short”: “I wasn’t thinking in terms of any particular standards for shortness. I was just saying that he was short, and wasn’t thinking in any terms more specific than that.”
Or so it seems to me. I imagine other folks to whom the matter seems the same way might have some thoughts about why this would be so, and I’d be interested to hear such thoughts. But I’m also, and even primarily, curious here about whether the observation is correct. Or is this only me?