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Language Matters

Language matters…well, it does to me.

Language separates us from the beast…well, that and opposable thumbs.

Language grew like a feral child.  Words were developed intentionally or accidentally.  At some point, someone frustrated by misunderstandings decided, “We need to standardize the spellings and meanings of all these words.  I can't depend on “up” meaning “up,” not “down,” unless we all agree.  A noble intent fulfilled by lexicographers who turned their wishes into dictionaries.

We used to know what the meaning of “is” is.  According to  Websters it is the third person singular of the substantive verb “be” meaning “exist actually, or in the world of fact; to have existence.”  Simple enough one would think. 
However, Bill Clinton, President of the United States, in order to hide the truth decided that there was a question about the agreed upon meaning of “is.”  That is the moment we should have gathered all of the dictionaries of the world and placed them behind glass in the Dictionary Museum of America.  They no longer had any practical application in the real world when the real world prefers to return to Babel.

Recently a Caucasian woman decided that she was not Causcasian but was instead African-American.  Many Blacks and Whites of the world rushed to her side to defend her position.   She not only changed her race, she changed the definition of “race,” “lineage,” “African-American,” “Black,” “Caucasian,” and “White.”

Her disregard for agreed upon meanings of words is not nearly as significant as the President's questioning the meaning of “is,” but the members of the Supreme Court questioning the meaning of the word “state” that I find a little jarring.  The Obamacare law was written to punish states which didn't  set up state healthcare  exchanges to supplement the national healthcare program.  It stated that enrollees in states that did not set up their own exchanges would not be eligible for Federal supplements to help their citizens to pay for their healthcare.  The majority of the states did not, yet the Federal government insisted that the folks in the renegade states receive their supplements in spite of the words of the law which was passed clearly stated that they would not.   You would think that what a law says is what a law means.  The law wasn't a typo.  It was the intent of the lawmakers to deny supplements in order to coerce the states into setting up exchanges.  Yet, I almost must laugh here, the court decided that “state” means all states, and to further their mushy thinking, they included in their defense of the law that the legislators had “good intentions” and that the law wouldn't work without the tax credits.  Surely they meant to include all states whether they had set up their own exchanges or not.   Holy crap. 

In the same week, the Supreme Court rendered another decision which brought into question the usefulness of dictionaries.  Gay Americans were given the right to marriage.  I'm happy for all gay Americans who will benefit from this decision.  I support them in their need for equal rights as heterosexual couples.  However, to render this decision, they had to disregard the traditional meaning of the word “marriage”  and ignored the fact that marriage is not within the prevue of the Constitution.

I am not deeply offended by any of the above examples of disregard for the meaning of words.  However, looking to the future, I am a little disturbed by the prospects for a world in which the meaning of words is arbitrary.  A world in which each of us is prone to have a different meaning for traditional meanings.

In another lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled what had been called a “penalty” for those not purchasing mandated health insurance when it was passed was accepted as okay when it was called a tax.  “Okay, okay.  What you meant when you said ‘penalty’ was actually ‘tax.’  Well, okay now!”

Apparently, we have become the land of Babel.  I'm no longer sure that when someone instructs me to turn left, that that is what they mean.  It could be their word for “right.”  If a recipe calls for a pinch of salt, perhaps they mean a handful of sugar.

Perhaps when Linda tells me to take out the garbage, she meand she'll take out the garbage, and I should remain on the couch. 

It's a tricky new Jabberwoky world.