Language Log » Sex-change surgery and universal grammar
Wonderful discussion on De Morgan’s law in the real world — whether GID (Gender ID Disorder) should be classified as a ‘disease’ or as cosmetic surgery.
Feel free to expand the topic here, but clearly the language of the law is perhaps ambiguous.
Consider the beginning of the article by Neal Goldfarb (@ http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2125)
The United States Tax Court recently decided that payments for sex-reassignment surgery are deductible as medical expenses. Among the 15 judges, there were six separate opinions, with five of the judges dissenting. Most of the debate dealt with questions like whether Gender Identity Disorder is a “disease” (a key term in the statue) and if so whether sex-reassignment surgery, which doesn’t change the patient’s subjective sense of gender identity, constitutes a “treatment” for the disease (ditto).
Those are issues with interesting linguistic dimensions, but what I want to talk about here is a different aspect of the case: the dispute about how to interpret disjunction under negation—i.e., how to interpret expressions such as I don’t know anything about linguistics or tax law (with don’t signaling negation and or signaling disjunction).
In the case decided by the Tax Court, the IRS had ruled that sex-reassignment surgery isn’t deductible, on the theory that it amounts to cosmetic surgery, which the tax code excludes from its definition of medical care. The code defines cosmetic surgery as—
any procedure which is directed at improving the patient’s appearance and does not meaningfully promote the proper function of the body or prevent or treat illness or disease.
The language in boldface is what’s at issue here.
There is more at the link above, but please feel free to discuss here.