Friday, March 23, 2012

Words mean things

When I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh, there was one phrase he often used when calling out the lies of President Clinton.  "Words mean things."  It was a critique of the method of warping words to suit one's purposes while attempting to retain the original feeling of the words.  Such as using the word "accommodation" while the action itself is simply one side imposing one's will on another.

We see this all the time in modern discourse.  Torture becomes "enhanced interrogation".  Abortion is "choice."  The warping of these words is used to disguise the actual actions being performed.  By dressing up evil using neutral language, the nature of the action itself is softened when it is communicated to us, and therefore becomes more acceptable.

The problem with such a strategy is that it corrupts the process of communication.  As stated, "words mean things" and to misuse the words corrupts their meaning.  When we misappropriate words to attempt to redefine an action, we corrupt our ability to communicate effectively.

A personal example.  When I first heard of the notion of "worker's rights" was in the context of Communism and the "revolution of the proletariat."  So imagine my surprise (and ignorant horror) to find that Catholic Social Doctrine has such a concept of "worker's rights."  The Communist revolution used a valid concept to launch their bloody wars.  This in turn prevented me from recognizing a real truth, and for years I held this notion that Catholic Social Doctrine was "Communism-lite."

Perhaps the most obvious abuse of a word today is "bigotry."  There was a joke around the late '50s where it was said "when someone said 'Mr. So-and-So a fascist', he meant 'I don't like Mr. So-and-So'".  I feel today that such tactics are used with the word "bigot".

The word bigot has morphed from "an ignorant hatred of a class of individuals" to "someone who thinks homosexual acts are sinful."  The attempt on the part of the pro-gay movement to silence the critics fundamentally warps the word itself.  And sadly they have had great success in this.

But the thing about warping words is that it eventually backfires.  The word bigot is now so overused it has lost its original meaning, and with it the force of the charge.  Thus legitimate bigots, such as white-supremacists, will find themselves no longer hampered by the term 'bigot'.

By overusing words and ripping them bleeding from their original definitions, the word loses its meaning.  It simply becomes a name, and conversation quickly dissipates in the face of such ignorance and dishonest tactics.

We as Christians must do our part to adhere to objective truth.  This includes words.  As our Lord says, "Let your yes be yes and no, no".  To do anything less is to obscure our meaning at best and at worst deceive our listeners.  

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