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Anyone who’s seen The Onion’s video “Prague’s Kafka International Named Most Alienating Airport”, in which an airline official played by a Slavoj Žižek soundalike tells confused travellers, “If there is a problem, fill out a complaint form, and place it in an envelope addressed to the name of the hospital in which you were born”, will recognise a kernel of truth about customer service buried in the absurdist humour. (Source)

How do you determine/deduce the right definition of kernel? Please explain the steps or thought processes; I’d like to try to resolve this myself in the future? Is it:

1. A softer, usually edible part of a nut, seed, or fruit stone contained within its shell:

which implies 'a seed of truth', or

  1. The central or most important part of something:

which implies 'a central part' of truth?

  • Are you familiar with the concept of metaphor? Or is this an attempt at an absurdist question? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 4 '14 at 11:15
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    In this case, you're dealing with an idiom, where meaning is sometimes but not always evident from form. One way to go about it is recognize your source is discussing absurdist satire, obvious parody, where the reader is not expecting truth. Your source then contrasts this with a truth buried in the humor; the key is the truth is small relative to the entire joke, but at the same time the entire joke is wrapped around and emerges from the truth. If you strip away all the humor, you'll still find the tiny, yet solid, truth. Do you see it now? – Dan Bron Oct 4 '14 at 11:24
  • It's saying that the kernel (central part) of the video is true, not that the video is the central part of all truth. – The Photon Oct 5 '14 at 0:37
  • @DanBron +1. Thanks. Would you like to recast your comment as an answer, for which I’ll happily upvote? Your answer's helpful enough; no need for other sources or lengthy explanations. – NNOX Apps Oct 9 '14 at 15:31
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In the first meaning I would say it is referring to the core of the seed itself. So in the end both meanings refer to the central part or nucleus of something, where this nucleus is somehow different from the rest (external layer) of that thing.

In this case, "kernel of truth", a figurative use, I would say it implies that there is some truth inside/behind something that is not (sic) true. I guess it is talking ironically about bureaucracy that annoys more than helps.

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