65. Here we come up against the great question that lies behind all these considerations. — For someone might object against me: “You take the easy way out! You talk about all sorts of language-games, but have nowhere said what the essence of a language-game, and hence of language, is: what is common to all these activities, and what makes them into language or parts of language. So you let yourself off the very part of the investigation that once gave you yourself most headache, the part about the general form of propositions and of language.”
And this is true. — Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all — but that they are related to one another in many different ways. And it is because of this relationship, or these relationships, that we call them all “language”. I will try to explain this.
66. Consider for example the proceedings that we call “games”. I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? — Don’t say: “There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’”— but look and see whether there is anything common to all. — For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don’t think, but look! — Look for example at boardgames, with their multifarious relationships.
Now pass to cardgames; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ballgames, much that is common is retained, but much is lost. — Are they all ‘amusing’? Compare chess with noughts and crosses. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think of patience. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared. Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis. Think now of games like ringaringaroses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! sometimes similarities of detail. And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear.
And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and crisscrossing: sometimes overall similarities.
67. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than “family resemblances”; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and crisscross in the same way. — And I shall say: ‘games’ form a family.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations