"But if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use."

Here, Wittgenstein takes issue with the usual explanation for how words are infused with meaning. Words on their own are merely sounds or scribbles on paper, but somehow these lifeless objects can become the source of fruitful communication. The typical explanation for how scribbles become meaningful is that the mind processes the scribbles or sounds and gives them life.

Wittgenstein suggests that this mentalistic conception of meaning is fundamentally confused, saying that we cannot understand how words connect with reality by alluding to the mind. Rather, Wittgenstein says, words have meaning because they are used within the context of a language. It is not their existence in the mind that gives them life, but their use in a language. A great deal of a word's meaning depends on when we say it, under what circumstances, and within the context of what sentence. Words are first and foremost related to one another, and not to the things they denote.