Monday, May 29, 2017

What Does It All Mean?

Misapplied is still wrong
The other day, I was going about my business when I heard a person use a word out of context over and over and over.  After a while it was just funny and I asked her if she knew what the word meant.  Said, she, "who cares what it means - it means what I need it to mean!"

Yeah, that might be a problem since that kind of thinking only leads to chaos and confusion and the degradation of language.  I mean, what's the purpose of a dictionary if everyone associates different meanings to various words?

For example, once upon a time, according to Websters Third New International Dictionary (1986), the word DISCRIMINATION meant
good or refined taste.  For example, that person has discriminating taste in clothes.
Fast forward a few decades and according to Black's Law Dictionary (2014), DISCRIMINATION took on a darker meaning and refering to:
The effect of a law or established practice that confers privileges on a certain class or denies privileges to a certain class because of race, age, sex, nationality, religion, or disability.
This word "discrimination" was brought to my attention when I was reading an article about how a guy didn't get a job because the new potential employer didn't want to hire someone who wasn't presently working.  The guy objected saying that the potential employer was "discriminating" against him because of his unemployment status.  The thing is, "unemployment" is not a suspect class but if people use it enough, it might become so (i.e. disability). 

The problem with the mis-application of a word is that that word becomes a useless term if regularly misused and soon has no meaning whatsoever.  Remember XEROX?  It used to be the name of a company but now means just to copy something. It also has other meanings which, because of the rampant abuse of the word, I don't think anyone could have foreseen.

Another word that has taken a beating over time is BULLY. Back in the day, BULLY meant: Jovial, dashing, gallant, excellent, first rate.  For example, a person might say: That's a bully of an idea or what a bully car.

More recently, BULLY has changed from an adjective to a noun to describe:
A cruel person person who uses physical strength or verbal intimidation, usually involving insults, to frighten or hurt someone who is weaker.  For example: My boss always demeans me in front of other staff.  She's a real bully
This is another problematic word.  If someone makes fun of your kid at school, are they a bully or are they just being a jerk?  It's important to know the difference because a bully can get expelled from school whereas a jerk is just a jerk.

One more word?   How about GAY.  Once upon a time, the word GAY meant: excited and merry; manifesting or inclined to joyous exhibition of content or pleasure.  Of course, these days, GAY refers to: the act of engaging in homosexual relations; see same sex relations.  

Sad that a group sought to degrade a perfectly good word to make it mean something relating to base pleasure.

Of course, there are other words out in word land that are fast becoming meaningless like Racist. Hint: racism is about the color of a person's skin, not whether they have limbs missing or whether they have blue or green eyes or whether they are from another country.  

Of course, who knows, maybe in a few years, racism will mean all those other things and, so, also go the way of another abused word.