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A friend of mine told me that German philologists (whom he did not name) in the 18th century were the first ones to argue that in any natural language no two words can mean exactly the same. Is this true and if so who were these philologists?

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  • Possibly answered by linguistics.stackexchange.com/a/2063/126?
    – prash
    Aug 7 '17 at 11:57
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    This is proverbial wisdom that has been apparent to anyone who's thought seriously about language since forever. There's always some context that provides a use for one and not the other; in situations where there is none, one of the words either becomes extinct or changes its meaning. Evolutionarily, languages have lots of uses for close synonyms (diversity is good), but no use for exact synonyms; why learn two words when one will always do?
    – jlawler
    Aug 7 '17 at 15:07
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    It's probably a consequence of the fact that no one word means the same thing.
    – user6726
    Aug 7 '17 at 15:14
  • I've puzzled for a long time over courage and bravery. They do feel different and sometimes one seems to come more easily than the other, but I have not found a consistent context where they are not interchangeable. Aug 7 '17 at 17:56
  • books.google.com/… points to Cruse 1986 at least as a resource to explore. It's partially available on-line; books.google.com/books/about/…
    – tripleee
    Mar 15 '18 at 10:09

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