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The first line of the passage is:

My emotions are complicated and not readily verifiable. I feel a vast yearning that is simultaneously a pleasure and a pain. ...

The question related to the italicised portion above is to identify which of the given options matches correctly with the author's meaning. The dictionary meaning of verifiable is - for your reference -:

able to be checked or demonstrated to be true, accurate, or justified.

surely it happens to correspond more with "unable to be authenticated" (prove or show (something) to be true, genuine, or valid.) than with "not completely understoood".

While I understand that the author must have meant the latter option (and it is given correct option as well), my question here is that:

Isn't the author wrong in using a word which doesn't reflect at all what he means?

Consider the point that:

  1. this isn't a poem so figurative speeches should be limited
  2. such misuse of words can confuse the readers anyway
  3. if I wrote verified - when I actually meant understood - in my high school examinations - the examiner would deduct my marks

here's the complete passage and question for reference - courtesy KhanAcademy enter image description here

  • 3
    +1 A very well asked question! ... I quite agree with you: it's a sloppy use of verifiable, and it's probably a bad question. On the other hand, when you're dealing with bad writing (and whatever language you work in you will spend most of your life dealing with bad writing) you have to try to figure out what the author intends, not what he actually says. – StoneyB Sep 15 '17 at 11:10
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    "This isn't a poem". The narrator of the passage is a "fictional Swedish scientist". I'd say not readily verified corresponds to "without empirical support". He's not even sure he's having these "emotions", empiricist that he is. They could be part of the great clockwork and machinery of the physical world, mere chemical perturbations. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 15 '17 at 14:06
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo having not had much experience with "empirical" outside of my chemistry workbook, I didn't even consider that option. Now, however, looking up the dictionary it reads: "based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic." which honestly yes it does very strongly corresponds to the original statement! Thanks for pointing it out :D These minute details do indicate how malicious the SAT English is, it manipulates your brain to think in so many different ways. – Gaurang Tandon Sep 15 '17 at 14:34
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    With standardized tests, choosing an answer often comes down to picking the one that is least bad. IMO, the absolute "without empirical support" is not a perfectly apt paraphrase of "not readily verifiable". I understand "not readily verifiable" here to mean that there is no direct quantifiable evidence of the quality and intensity of a mental state; we must approach the subject indirectly. What do I mean by "indirectly"? By assessing behavior, physiological data, and the language and content of "self-report". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 16 '17 at 14:57
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+50

(Native speaker.) I agree with OP - "verifiable" is not a suitable word to use for emotions -- or, for that matter, for any subjective phenomena.

When scientists talk about "verifiability", they are talking about whether the result of a test can be reproduced in different circumstances. But that doesn't apply to emotions.

The screenshot that OP linked repeats the error:

In this context, his emotions are "not readily verifiable", or not completely understood.

The "not completely understood" part is correct -- the text contains words and phrases such as "don't know", "don't understand", "my motives... are not entirely clear", and so on. The narrator clearly doesn't fully comprehend his own emotions. He feels compelled to do something, but doesn't understand why.

But "not completely understood" does not mean the same thing as "not readily verifiable" -- not at all.

  • Thanks for providing a detailed, native speaker's point of view! – Gaurang Tandon Sep 22 '17 at 15:15
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It does seem to me like a little bit of an unusual and possibly awkward use of the word "verifiable", but I'm pretty sure the author is intending to describe uncertainty about exactly how they feel rather than any uncertainty about the validity of their feelings.

Usually when people talk about "validating" their emotions, they're talking about external validation; they're looking for someone else or something else to support the idea that a given emotion (that they definitely feel) is reasonable and makes sense. A person might have a "valid" emotion after having made a "valid" point. They might feel "validated" if someone else agrees with them.

People don't usually talk about "verifying" their own emotions, but a person certainly might say "I'm not sure how I feel about that," or "I think I feel this way, but I'm not really sure" which is what I'm pretty sure the author is meaning to say, here. They can't readily "confirm" or "verify" that they definitely feel the things that they kind of think they maybe do.

So in other words they kind of have a lot of different, potentially conflicting emotions, many of which are maybe a little vague and hard to pin down, and in fact they're not even really sure about exactly how they feel at all.

  • Thanks for your detailed answer! I'm glad you elaborated on one aspect of the topic (+1), which is what the author would have meant in that sentence. I didn't elaborate on it in my question post, but I do certainly agree with you (read: "While I understand that the author must have meant the latter option (and it is given correct option as well),"). However, my question actually is "Isn't the author wrong in using a word which doesn't reflect at all what he means?", which you haven't focused on in your answer. – Gaurang Tandon Sep 21 '17 at 11:34
  • The word "verifiable" does reflect what he means, which is what I tried to explain in my answer. I don't think he's exactly "wrong" in using the word, but he may be using it in a way that is a little bit unusual or awkward; which I also meant to say or at least imply in my answer. – Shavais Sep 22 '17 at 3:46
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By stating "my emotions are complicated and not readily verifiable," the author, I think, is being very clear. It sounds as though the author is describing an inability make sense of those emotions. It seems to be a good use of language.

Edit: I know plenty of native English speakers who would never have answered that question correctly, though! haha.

  • Hi, thanks for your answer! But doesn't the author's intended meaning actually contradict the dictionary meaning of "verifiable"? That is what I am asking. – Gaurang Tandon Sep 16 '17 at 10:51
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    @Guarang Tandon: be very careful when using the phrase "the dictionary definition", as there is really no such thing. There are dozens of dictionaries, usually edited by a team people who attempt to formulate the meaning(s) of words. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 19 '17 at 11:23
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    If the narrator is a Swedish scientist then not readily verifiable might be an attempt to show his character; rightly or not, Swedes are often parodied as emotionally shallow. Otherwise it's just strange; hardly grammatically wrong but certainly emotions are far less likely to be unable to be authenticated than anything like not understood. Does How do I love thee? Let me authenticate the ways work in any language? – Robbie Goodwin Sep 19 '17 at 18:22
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo I surely agree with you, however, I haven't till date found dictionaries contradicting each other to an extent of making "verifiable" similar to "understood", or such other pairs of different words. So, I freely use that term "dictionary-definition". I am willing to be corrected, though. (PS: you got my username spelling wrong, I didn't get the @ notification ping :-) ) – Gaurang Tandon Sep 21 '17 at 11:30
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    @Guarang Tandon: The KhanAcademy question is a bad question as it excludes valid answers. The verb to verify means 'to confirm the existence, truthfulness, accuracy, authenticity, or genuineness of something'. That which is verifiable can be verified. When either word, verb or the adjective derived from it, is used in scientific contexts. said confirmation is empirical in nature. Here, the context is a fictional scientist discussing emotion, which is subjective. How can we measure emotion? How can we assess it objectively? Emotion is not readily verifiable. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 21 '17 at 11:53

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