The other day I was listening to NPR in my car, and an interviewee made the following statement: that “hoarding” and “collecting” are synonyms.
Surely they aren’t.
Yes, in a structuralist kind of sense—taking the computer scientist Roger Schank to represent linguistic structuralism—they both describe the same set of actions of owning, taken with respect to the same number of objects.
It might be possible to argue that both words denote the same thing, though they have different connotations.
Is this the definition of “synonym”?
In a Roget’s Thesaurus kind of sense, perhaps. Your word processor might offer one as a “synonym” for another, or they might fall under the same numeric code in Mr. Roget’s scheme (though in a full and unabridged version, they might not).
But that’s the kind of synonym that produces laughable freshman-comp essays, like when a student feels “navy blue” isn’t snazzy enough and substitutes “cerulean.”
You could say, I guess, if you were so inclined, that “collecting” is the name we give to “hoarding” when we’ve decided not to condemn it, morally. This seemed to be what the guy on the radio was getting at: gently suggesting that this collector could hardly claim to have given up the hold things have on his life.
But this isn’t really the case. The denotations of the words are really fairly different. We frown on hoarding because it’s different enough from collecting to make it seriously irrational—not just because we’ve decided this person should be discouraged, while that one should be allowed to pass. Most people have no trouble distinguishing between collectors and hoarders, and the behavior of the two isn’t too difficult to tell apart. We have plenty of concepts; we don’t have to fit all the words into a tiny number of pigeonholes.