The Label Law is one of Jerry Weinberg's laws from The Secrets of Consulting
The name of the thing is not the thing.
...our tendency to attach a name - a label - to every new thing we see, and then to treat that thing as if the label were a true and total description...
Once the stereotyped label is attached, the problem becomes much harder to solve.
I was reminded of the Label Law recently when watching, you've guessed it, The Princess Bride (one of my favourite films) with my son Patrick. There's a scene where the Man in Black (aka Westley) explains to Buttercup how he has become the Dread Pirate Roberts:
The name was the important thing for inspiring the necessary fear. You see, no one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley.
The Label Law also reminds me of the apocryphal story of the man who, lacking any cheese, baited his mousetrap with a picture of some cheese, only to find the next day he had caught a picture of a mouse.
Richard Feynman knew the difference between something and its name. In his book the pleasure of finding things out he recalls spending time with his Dad in the woods:
Looking at the bird he says, "Do you know what that bird is? It's a brown throated thrush; but in Portuguese it's a … in Italian a …, " he says "in Chinese it's a …, in Japanese a …," etcetera. "Now," he says, "you know in all the languages you want to know what the name of the bird is and when you've finished with all that," he says, "you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You only know about humans in different places and what they call the bird. Now," he says, "let's look at the bird."
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