# Grelling-Nelson Paradox

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## Paradox

Define an adjective to be **autological** if it is true when applied to itself.

For instance, the word "English" is autological, as it is a word in English.

The word "multisyllabic" is also autological, as it contains multiple syllables.

Define an adjective to be **heterological** if it is not true when applied to itself.

For instance, the word "long" is heterological, as it is not a long word.

The word "monosyllabic" is also heterological, as it does not contain only one syllable.

All adjectives must either be autological or heterological, as they either apply to themselves or they don't.

"Autological" and "heterological" are thus each defined as the negation of the other.

The **Grelling-Nelson paradox** arises when trying to apply one of these adjectives to the word "heterological".

If "heterological" is autological, then it does apply to itself.

But then by the definition of "heterological", it does not apply to itself, making it heterological.

If "heterological" is heterological, then it does not apply to itself.

But then by the definition of "heterological," it is not the case that "heterological" does not apply to itself, and so it does apply to itself, making it autological.

We thus have:

- heterological is autological $\iff$ heterological is heterological

for the contradictory predicates "heterological" and "autological".

This paradox is closely related to Russell's Paradox: Corollary:

- $\not \exists x: \forall y: \paren {\map \RR {x, y} \iff \neg \map \RR {y, y} }$

Define $x$ to be the predicate "heterological," and define the relation $\map \RR {x, y}$ to mean "the predicate $x$ applies to $y$".

The sentence:

- $\map \RR {x, y} \iff \neg \map \RR {y, y}$

is thus interpreted:

- $y$ is heterological if and only if $y$ does not apply to itself.

The assertion that the predicate "heterological" exists and is defined as such for all $y$ is then equivalent to:

- $\forall y: \paren {\map \RR {x, y} \iff \neg \map \RR {y, y} }$

This leads to the same contradiction as Russell's Paradox: Corollary - when we instantiate $y$ as $x$, we obtain:

- $\map \RR {x, x} \iff \neg \map \RR {x, x}$

## Also known as

The **Grelling-Nelson paradox** is also known as:

**Grelling's paradox****Weyl's paradox**, as it is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Hermann Klaus Hugo Weyl.

## Source of Name

This entry was named for Kurt Grelling and Leonard Nelson.

## Sources

- 2008: David Nelson:
*The Penguin Dictionary of Mathematics*(4th ed.) ... (previous) ... (next):**Grelling-Nelson paradox**