I have been engaged in a couple of discussions lately regarding language. I’m a fan of etymology and come from the school that thinks “words mean things.”
Language is the conduit through which we convey ideas. Without words, our ideas wouldn’t be of much use to anyone but ourselves. Through words we are able to relate our ideas to others.
More times than I have been able to tabulate, I have run across various people in philosophical and objectivists circles that I refer to as ‘fundamentalists’. People who are strict to the point of near OCD adherence to ‘what Rand said’. If you don’t follow every single cotton-picking tenet as they see it and interpret it, you can’t POSSIBLY label yourself an objectivist and to do so is an insult to objectivists everywhere! HERETIC! HOW DARE YOU!!!
One of the discussions last week involved a few words I have been in the process of collecting. I collect them because the original meaning, the etymological basis of the words, is completely contradictory to how they are used in the common vernacular today. I often use them or refer to them in a humorous sense – i.e. if you don’t want to lie to someone but don’t want to hurt their feelings either, just use one of those words to say what you really mean but so they likely won’t figure it out. Words such as ‘terrific’ (to inspire terror), awesome (creating fear and reverence) or tremendous (causing fear and trembling).
Again this came up today in reference to the word ‘soul mate’. I tend to avoid words like ‘soul mate’ mainly because of where it originated from. I also avoid it because of how it is often used – by people who attribute some kind of mystical ‘magic’ to the notion of love and life partners and see such a person as some kind of transcendent ‘one in a million’ match. (I personally take a Tim Minchin approach and find it romantic even that out of potentially large amounts of people I could just as easily ‘love’ that I ‘choose’ to love the person I am with)
Generally the cop-out is falling back on the ‘common perception’ argument. Mainly, if everyone accepts the common usage (colloquial usage or connotation) then what is wrong with using such a word that way? This led me back to the Ignorance vs. Idiocy post, (not to mention it reeks strongly of Argumentum Ad Populum fallacy) mainly that ‘if you know the difference or should know the difference, why not use another more appropriate word to what you actually mean rather than risk coming off like an idiot?’
The nature of this kind of reasoning is downright silly in my opinion. Essentially it boils down to a “well everyone else is doing it” type of argument. If everyone else is behaving immorally, does that mean it’s ok to be immoral? If everyone else is acting stupid, does that make it ok to act stupid? Yet if everyone else is misusing a word to the point at which that word’s misuse is now ‘acceptable’, that makes it entirely OK to just jump on board? I don’t get it!
I’m sure there are tons of words akin to the handful I listed above that might fit this description. I’m hardly going to get anal to the same extent that the ‘fundamentalists’ do about the minutia of philosophy do, but it doesn’t strike me as terribly difficult, that should you stumble upon one of these words, especially when it is more obvious such as one that includes the mystical term ‘soul’ right in it, that you couldn’t find one of probably a dozen or more other ways of saying the same thing connotatively while using verbiage that is still consistent with your denotative meaning.
And yes, I understand there are instances of ‘creative’ use of language to draw analogies or familiar expressions such as the use of nicknames for things or people and pets. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about communicating ideas objectively.
It simply tends to strike me as odd – no less as outright hypocritical as hell if it’s done knowingly, willingly or intentionally – that the same kinds of people that desire to remove contradictions from their logic and reason, from the way they live their lives and from their very philosophy will so readily fore go that kind of approach when they choose to express those things with words to others and the world at large.